UNIVERSITY staff are divided over an agreement between their union and vice chancellors, which is intended to minimise job losses but which some say erodes pay and conditions.
The National Tertiary Education Union has negotiated the National Jobs Protection Framework with vice-chancellors, to provide "a strong set of guard rails that will set what universities can and can't do during this next phase" of COVID-19.
It has asked staff to consider temporary pay freezes or salary reductions to save up to 12,000 of 30,000 jobs under threat.
NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes said the sector was facing an "unprecedented crisis" and came up with the "national response" to "prevent the collapse of tertiary education", after the federal government didn't respond to calls for it to intervene.
The framework involves a panel assessing each university's finances to determine what level of measures they can take.
The panel will also determine whether there has been reasonable use of other sources of funds - such as executive wage cuts and suspension of capital works - before the university can have access to measures.
There can be no forced redundancies as a cost-saving measure, no stand-downs without pay and casual work will stay with casuals.
But universities will be able to direct staff to take leave and reduce both their fraction of employment and salaries by a maximum of 10 per cent.
The total impact of all measures on an employee cannot be more than 15 per cent.
Casuals will be exempt from pay cuts.
Entitlements will accrue as normal.
University of Newcastle (UON) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky AO, said each university has its own unique circumstances "so broad categorisation may not be appropriate".
He said his goal was to ensure UON continues to be sustainable, supports staff and deliver "world-class education".
"We need to balance addressing short term challenges with how we want to emerge from the current challenges.
"Our people and our communities are at the heart of that and we take our responsibilities very seriously.
"I have advised my senior leadership team that current recruitment processes can be completed but that for now, further recruitment will be by exception only and with my approval.
"Our capital investment program is funded in part by returns on our share portfolio, so the timing of some projects is being reviewed in the context of the significant decline in the global sharemarket."
A UON spokesperson last week said it would present a "full picture" of the financial impact of COVID-19 to University Council in June, along with a plan to mitigate the impact through savings.
If the NTEU national council endorses the plan next Wednesday, there will be a national ballot of members.
Universities will put a year-long variation to the Enterprise Agreement to a ballot of all its employees.
Already, some have formed NTEU Fightback- No Concessions, which has rejected the framework, saying wage cuts don't save jobs.
The group has demanded a government bailout and universities to use lines of credit to sustain jobs and conditions.
The CPSU NSW has raised concerns on behalf of non-academic staff, saying they're likely to be most impacted because they're employed on an ongoing permanent basis unlike casual higher-earning academics.
Assistant general secretary Troy Wright said the CPSU had been negotiating with some universities to find better ways to retain jobs without an "indiscriminate pay cut", including cancelling travel allowances, encouraging staff to take leave, stopping capital works, tapping into rainy day funds and reviewing contingent labour.
"A 15 percent wage cut may only be a haircut for high-paid academics, but for the professional staff of universities it is a life-altering cut to their pay packet," he said.
Dr Barnes said there was "no perfect options in a crisis of this magnitude".
"Academics and the like are always going to debate the respective merits and that's why democracy is important and why it's up to members to vote."
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