University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black unveils salary savings proposal

Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black. Picture: file
Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black. Picture: file

A new salary savings package proposed by the University of Tasmania will see staff vote on a 12-month wage freeze.

UTAS Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black on Wednesday unveiled the package agreed with union leadership which aims to protect jobs and meet the financial challenges presented by COVID-19.

Professor Black said the university faced revenue losses of $30 to $34 million in 2020 and between $60 and $120 million per year across 2021 and 2022.

"Our total revenue in a year is normally a bit over $600 million," Professor Black said.

Professor Black said revenue losses were primarily related to a reduction in the number of international students due to COVID-19.

People's livelihoods are at risk

He said international student numbers for Semester 2 this year had decreased to 700, down from 1400 in Semester 2, 2019.

"The international student challenge is one we named up long before coronavirus arrived as one we needed adjust to make sure we had a sustainable university," Professor Black said.

"At no point has [the loss of international students] represented anything like an existential threat to the university."

"We are a net positive [for domestic students] at the moment because, as often happens in hard times, people return to education to get the skills they need."

Professor Black said the university, which was currently in a net positive position, would take on debt of $130 million over four years bringing it to a net debt of $80 million, to see the burden of the pandemic shared across time.

But there remains a gap of $40 to $50 million a year which the university said needed to be met from its salary budget.

Professor Black said the university had reached an in-principle agreement on the package with the state and national leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union and the Community and Public Sector Union but staff have not yet voted the package.

If staff agree to hold salaries across all levels of the organisation, which will see a 2 per cent wage increase due under the current staff agreement not passed on, it is expected to save about 50 jobs.

The package also includes supporting flexible arrangements for staff who wish to change their employment fraction, enabling voluntary contributions by staff of whom 65 have already contributed $350,000, and prioritising voluntary measures such as early retirements or voluntary redundancies.

"Over the next few years, we should be able to be a smaller staff achieved by voluntary measures. Of course, if we can't get there we will have to look at non-voluntary measures," Professor Black said.

An independent national committee will have oversight of all job reductions over the next 12 months.

In terms of casual employees, Professor Black said any staff who had existing relationships with the university would be prioritised for employment

"We've got tight vacancy management so we are looking to employ a minimum number of new people and to only do that from people who already have a relationship with the university," he said.

He said the package would have no impact on the student experience and it would not cut into the university's research.

Tasmania's Labor federal members and senators called for the Commonwealth to urgently provide more support to the university.

"The Morrison government has clearly not provided enough support to universities across the country," they said in a joint statement.

"People's livelihoods are at risk - academics, tutors, administration staff, library staff, catering staff, grounds staff, cleaners, and many others - all with families, trying to make ends meet."

But Professor Black said the government had done a good job supporting the university.

"They gave us, irrespective of our student numbers, our full Commonwealth grant which created real certainty for us," he said.

"All of the national funding schemes have remained unchanged and on time."

This story Uni proposes staff wage freeze in bid to save jobs first appeared on The Examiner.