NTEU letter screenshot

 

Staff to be cut from the School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) from early May remain uncertain of their continued positions at the ANU after a union dispute alleged breaches of due process by the College of Asia-Pacific (CAP) administration. Staff targeted by the cuts have not been told if their redundancies have been confirmed, being compelled to teach into semester two without employment and salary assurances.

The current stasis comes after a gruelling review of the CHL by CAP administration, beginning in late 2014, left students and staff feeling disillusioned and neglected. The review was charged with being opaque and inconsiderate of staff and student consultation.

In May, Woroni reported that 12 staff were told to leave by CAP Administration, according to recommendations by a deliberative committee (DC) formed by CAP Dean Veronica Taylor, and were simply told that they did not “fit” the vision of the restructured CHL. One academic, Professor Robert Cribb, had his verdict reversed after students campaigned for his retention, inviting the intervention of Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt.

However, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) launched a formal dispute with the ANU on June 15, alleging breaches of due process in failing to both adequately inform affected staff, and to do so in a timely manner.

Specifically, the NTEU charged that the ANU failed to “properly apply” clauses 58 and 73 of the ANU Enterprise Act 2013-2016. The NTEU alleged that the ANU’s change implementation plan outlining the new school (reported on previously) did not satisfy the requirements of clause 73. Specifically, it did not identify “surplus and/or new position(s)” and does not “include a description of changes in functional activities” for these positions.

The NTEU also disputed the proper application of clause 58, which requires the ANU to provide “the reasons that [a redundancy] is to occur and the likely timeline.” According to affected staff and the NTEU dispute, neither of these requirements has been addressed.

Redundancy selections allegedly ill-defined and target individuals

The reasons given to those being made redundant were largely unsatisfactory and vague, according to affected academics and testimonials – albeit redacted – within the NTEU dispute notification. Dr Mark Donohue repeated the rationale given for his redundancy as follows:

“[The employee] does not meet the requirement of contribution across the School’s education and research programs and service at the School, College and University level and outreach appropriate to the attributes for the new School and composition of academic departments.”

Given the lack of a detailed justification for the redundancies, some have speculated that personal characteristics may have influenced the cuts, rather than concrete criteria for a restructured CHL.

The NTEU dispute reads, “It would appear that staff have not in fact been given the actual reasons that their position has been identified as surplus. Indeed, the reason given does not relate to a position at all, but rather to an individual. This lends the impression that individuals have been targeted in this process.”

In the past week, the NTEU communicated with affected staff affirming its position that opaqueness surrounding the redundancies is leading to a perception that individuals are being removed on personal grounds.

According to the NTEU, ANU’s HR department attempted to rationalise the failure to provide information and a timeline. Firstly, the delay in information is needed to allow affected staff to consider all transition options and seek supplementary, professional advice; secondly, to preserve staff confidentiality; and finally, to avoid potential damages to the reputation of redundant staff.

The NTEU rebuffed these justifications and reiterated its support for the needs of these affected academics, but stressed its commitment to ensuring due process and adherence to the ANU’s Enterprise Agreement.

Concerned staff, who will remain nameless to protect their privacy, have echoed this sentiment. In a correspondence with the writer, these staffers doubted the legitimacy of the arguments of poor “fit” into the new CHL, and noted the absence of performance guidelines in their redundancies.

They further discredited the Administration’s selection criteria by highlighting the detriments to high-enrolment courses at CHL that these academics are responsible for teaching. Courses in history in the Asia-Pacific and China, as well as the compulsory Phonetics and Phonology course, will lose key teachers.

They concluded that office politics and personal relations influenced the final redundancy decisions.   

Furthermore, according to sources within administration and the CHL, the initial DC recommendations were not followed, or were at least significantly altered by the CAP Dean, raising questions about the reasons behind the 12 redundancies. Some staff identified by the DC as not suitable were instead continued to the new School by the Dean, while others not tagged by the DC were chosen for redundancy.

Who’s teaching in semester two?

The formal issuing of the NTEU dispute has halted the ANU’s process of finalising the May redundancies. Decisions made by the DC and the CAP Dean can only be fully implemented once the dispute is satisfactorily settled, as per agreements between the NTEU and ANU.

As a result, there is confusion as to whether affected academics will continue to teach this semester given that they have not been formally made redundant from the CHL. Staff appear to be receiving mixed signals, according to the Language Diversity group and some affected academics themselves.

On one hand, correspondence between ANU HR and CHL sources in the past week has asserted that affected academics are to continue their duties at the School as normal. The final status of these select academics will be determined once the dispute has been concluded.

This information came to CHL staff a week before semester start, and previous queries to an executive at the CHL on the matter resulted in their redirection to HR.

On the other hand, staff are uncertain of the courses they are allowed to teach. As verified by students and staff, some postgraduate reading and special topics courses offered by affected scholars have been disallowed. Moreover, according to one academic, the CHL is hiring sessional staff for teaching positions occupied by staff marked for redundancy, even though the dispute is ongoing.

Concerned academics told Woroni that they did not expect the dispute to end any time soon.