About 300 jobs at Deakin University are at risk after it failed to reach agreement with the union on a COVID-19 recovery plan.
The impending job losses come after the university estimated it will lose up to $300 million in operating review in 2021.
Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin told staff on Monday the institution would not sign the National Tertiary Education Union proposal put forward to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.
The union had called for temporary reductions in wages, salary increase deferrals and transfers to other duties, among other alternatives to protect jobs.
These measures were part of the union’s Jobs Protection Framework to offer a way out for universities severely hit by the impact of coronavirus.
The university has instead put forward a new plan that includes a reduction of 300 positions. Deakin has five campuses in Melbourne and the Victorian regional cities of Geelong and Warrnambool – job losses are expected at all of them.
But the union has argued the losses could be prevented if university workers could access the JobKeeper program.
“Deakin is a major employer in regional Australia and the impact of this will be disproportionate for a place like Geelong,” NTEU National President Alison Barnes said.
The federal government “could have saved these jobs with the stroke of a pen using the $60 billion they thought they had already spent”, she said.
The Morrison government has repeatedly ruled out expanding JobKeeper, its coronavirus wage subsidy program, to employees of publicly funded universities, as well as casuals and workers in the arts sector.
In April, lobby group Universities Australia said the sector could lose more than 21,000 jobs within the next six months unless the federal government offered financial help.
Deakin University has drafted a plan to manage the next three years based on budget cuts, and the acknowledgement that it will have to spend more than it earns.
Professor Martin said Deakin had no desire to implement measures such as stand-downs, forced leave, or across-the-board pay cuts of up to 15 per cent.
“I acknowledge again that managing 2020 and the next two to three years is about far more than money,” he said.
“But without a solid and sustainable financial position we will not be able to make the impact generating contributions that will be needed across our communities.”
Deakin said it had about 10,500 staff at the end of 2019, and argued the staff reduction represented about 5 per cent of its workforce.
But the union claimed the figure of 300 did not include a large number of casual and fixed-term workers who have already been sacked or stood down.
“As a university, we spend 55 per cent of our total revenue on staff,” Professor Martin said.
“While we will do everything possible to minimise staff impacts, we must look at our employment costs as well as continuing to minimise other expenditure to adjust to where we need to be.”
The university’s proposal has been sent to staff for feedback and consultation.