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CQ University staff denied vote on pay-cut option ahead of massive job losses

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Central Queensland University vice-chancellor Professor Nick Klomp has rejected the NTEU Jobs Participation Framework and opted to forge ahead with job cuts, without allowing staff a vote (Screenshot via YouTube)

Central Queensland University (CQU) Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Klomp is planning to sack hundreds of staff on Thursday, 28 May. This comes after 183 staff were accepted for "voluntary separation".

In an email sent today to staff, Professor Klomp announced that CQU will not participate in the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) proposal to save jobs. 

In the email he states: 

'The CQUniversity executives does not support enforced pay cuts and reduced working hours.”

He claims that the NTEU proposal only offers a 'short time solution'. However, the executives seem to be pretty happy with forced separations. These same executives are also happy to take a salary cut and keep their jobs but are not happy to do the same for other CQU staff — bureaucracy at its best. To deny staff the right to vote on the NTEU proposal is a practice no longer even practised in totalitarian regimes.

Hidden agenda

Klomp is only new in his position. He was just appointed as a vice-chancellor last year and then launched his new vision of a new CQU. The plan includes restructuring many of the business’ entities and downsising in sugar-coated terms. Fast forward to 2020 and the COVID-19 impact on the sector has given the vice-chancellor the opportunity to ride the wave. With the absence of any protection for staff from the Federal Government, Klomp is using this opportunity to effect his agenda and force redundancy with little costs and few questions asked. He may then emerge as the "hero" who floated CQUniversity finances.

The VC has already had drawn plans to restructure the University and sack 20 per cent of the workforce on 18 May. However, pressure from staff via a previous Independent Australia article (and other media coverage) has forced Professor Klomp to sit at the table with the NTEU. 

On 13 May, Klomp appeared in a video announcing that CQ University will delay its recovery plan – basically, delaying the forced redundancies – until June, as negotiations with NTEU ensue. What he couldn’t hide, however, was his negative attitude during this announcement. In fact, he was open about it, expressing that he is "cranky" at having to delay his plans. Beneath his crankiness, it seems, his hidden agenda was looming.

Since then, the vice-chancellor, almost daily, exercised a strategy of fear and propaganda among staff, shutting the door slowly to NTEU negotiations. On one occasion, for example, he expressed that he is not sorry about appearing to be cranky in the video because this had delayed his plans and forced him to wait until June. On another occasion, Klomp was claiming staff were informally opposing the NTEU agreement.

The professor is also playing the numbers game. In the early days of the pandemic, he announced that the university has a budget hole of $116 million. He outlined some savings already made – including freezing some capital works and travel – and concluded that a further $55 million needed to be saved from salaries. 

With 183 staff leaving the university on voluntary separation and with the closure of the Noosa campus, CQU has already made savings of $28 million. However, the vice-chancellor, in a recent article published by the ABC, is no longer talking about the $55 million deficiency — it is now cited as a $116 million hole

Why? Well, the answer is simple: it is cheaper to hire casuals.

Why the rush?

If other universities can wait for an NTEU agreement, why can’t CQU also wait? Well, in reality, CQU needs to make budget savings of a further $22 million for this year. For the out-years, who knows how this pandemic will unfold? Today, governments –both at states and federal levels – have flagged a return for International students by 2020. Some were even more optimistic flagging their return as early as July or August this year. This could be the main reason why Klomp is rushing on his plans. He wants to act as quickly as possible before the return of International students, or his agenda of riding the wave of COVID-19 by doing a major restructure of CQU will be in jeopardy.

The previous vice-chancellor spent millions of dollars on consultation fees to strategically plan CQU roadmap till 2024. So, in essence, the rationale behind the need to do another restructuring is in question.

On, UNSW vice-chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs has provided a very positive outlook for the international students’ market post-pandemic. This is something to which Klomp is turning a blind eye. 

To the CQU vice-chancellor we say, we deserve to have a vote on the NTEU proposal or there is a risk of a class action. To the Federal Government we say, the JobKeeper package is breaking us and leaving us out of jobs. Be prepared to have thousands of university staff lining up at your Centrelink doors.

This is Professor Klomp's latest email communication to staff:

Dear colleagues,

 

Please find today’s edition of the VC’s Daily Update.

Today’s video is important, as I’m discussing the decision on the proposed NTEU Jobs Participation Framework.

After carefully considering the available details, CQUniversity will not be participating in the NTEU proposal. I’ve informed our local union branch leaders on this decision this morning.

Our University position is outlined further in the video linked above, however, our key reasons are as follows:

  • Any financial benefits of participating in this temporary scheme will be short term only. They will prolong the inevitable and cause us to enforce further staff separations once the EA concessions are removed. I can’t conscionably support such a scenario; we must take decisive action now on our structure and costs, and rapidly move forward.
  • Further to the above points, any benefits would be further eroded by the fact that the CQUniversity Executive does not support enforced pay cuts and reduced working hours, which would be by far the biggest contributors to any temporary cost savings. CQUniversity has a wonderfully positive staff culture that is the backbone of this university (even though we are facing a challenging time at the moment); such extreme measures are divisive and may irreversibly damage this culture - a culture that is so important to our identity and future prosperity.
  • CQUniversity staff are represented by three unions – NTEU, QTU and Together – and many staff are not union-affiliated. Based on discussions this week, QTU and Together local branches are strongly opposed to the NTEU proposal. CQUniversity’s workforce is diverse and the University has considered these diverse viewpoints in its decision making.
  • Informal staff feedback submitted to the Communicate inbox by CQUniversity is overwhelmingly in opposition to the NTEU proposal.

I’d like to thank the NTEU and all staff unions, at a national and local branch level, for bringing an innovative proposal to the table. While the proposed approach doesn’t suit CQUniversity’s unique needs, it may well save many positions in the wider sector, and that is a good thing.

CQUniversity will now proceed with its final change proposal to staff, which we will release on Thursday, 28 May 2020. We will continue to be governed by the University’s existing enterprise agreement in all negotiations.

Thank you again for your patience and understanding. I don’t take it for granted.

 

Regards,

 

Nick

This article was penned by an anonymous group of academics from Central Queensland University.

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