Three hundred and fifty staff at Victoria University held a mass meeting on October 21 to consider industrial action in response to the announcement of a plan to sack more than 250 staff in VU's Higher Education and TAFE divisions.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) says this is proportionately the largest cut to staff at any university in Australia's history.
NTEU Victorian Division president Jamie Doughney told Green Left Weekly that the redundancy plan "arose from a secret process that excluded heads of school, deans and most senior managers". According to Doughney, who is also an elected staff representative on the VU council, "The Resources Committee of Council was not informed until October 17 that the process was already underway and of the magnitude of the cuts being proposed.
"The salary savings that the VU vice-chancellor, Elizabeth Harman, is proposing equate, in net terms, to cuts of over 25% of academic jobs, over 17% of general staff jobs and almost 11% of teaching jobs in the TAFE sector. Actual jobs lost will be greater than these figures."
NTEU Victorian Division executive representative and Socialist Alliance member Jeremy Smith told GLW: "The cuts will devastate this institution, which has only a little over 1000 staff in higher education. It hits at the heart of access to education for working-class people in Melbourne's west."
The university management's public justification for the cuts is to provide "the means to invest in new facilities, infrastructure, and services to meet the growth demands of the western region of Melbourne". After careful examination of the university's figures, however, Doughney has circulated a response to all VU staff.
Doughney's statement identifies a lack of due process by the vice-chancellor, and deputy vice-chancellor John Hickman, particularly in relation to unapproved capital works expenditure that is included in their figures and is part of their argument for the job cuts.
These job cuts have been announced while the NTEU is seeking to negotiate a new collective agreement at VU. In a media statement, NTEU Victorian Division secretary Matthew McGowan said it was "disappointing that rather than negotiate in good faith, the Vice-Chancellor and her negotiating team have decided to engage in mass sackings".
Following overwhelming staff support at the mass meeting for further action, the NTEU has initiated proceedings to enable a membership ballot on industrial action.