Victoria University management has rejected accusations it is deliberately sacking union branch officers in a bid to cripple the voice of staff ahead of new negotiations.
National Tertiary Education Union branch president Paul Adams, vice president Stuart Martin and secretary David Garland have all been forcibly made redundant.
Dr Adams said three of the four officers of the local branch being made redundant just as a new enterprise bargaining period opens is clearly an attempt to weaken the union and cannot be a coincidence.
“It’s never happened before, for three of four branch officers to be retrenched,” he said.
Dr Adams, who has spoken out about the loss of more than 100 jobs in a university restructure, said he had taught at VU for 24 years and the teaching environment has become increasingly difficult for staff.
Other staff echoed the claims, suggesting management has taken an adversarial stance in its moves to reposition the university in the face of dwindling income.
Mr Garland said he was very suspicious about his job loss and the removal of the staff best positioned to negotiate.
“I think people are sort of shocked about the whole thing, they do say that this seems to be suspicious.”
He pointed to the recent move by Murdoch University in West Australia to abandon an enterprise agreement and force staff back onto a basic award.
“Of all the universities in Victoria, VU would be the first in line for this sort of treatment.”
A Victoria University spokeswoman said a widespread transformation agenda has been pursued since 2016, aiming to improve the student experience and concentrate research efforts.
“Victoria University remains committed to enhancing the quality of teaching, learning and shaping the 21st century student experience,” she said.
“We aim to do all this in a structure that is financially sustainable.”
The spokeswoman said change of this magnitude will have an inevitable impact on staff, but Victoria University has consulted with all staff and adhered to legal and industrial relations obligations.
“Forced redundancies remain the option of last resort, and only after all other available options have been exhausted,” she said.
“Assertions regarding targeting individuals are completely false.”
NTEU state secretary Colin Long said the sacking of almost an entire branch all at once was unprecedented.
“The uni does have some financial problems, but no employer in any uni sector or anywhere should be targeting someone for redundancy based on them being part of a union.”
Dr Long said VU would be “risking its reputation” if it followed the lead of Murdoch University.
A recent meeting of the National Council of the NTEU condemned the sackings, passing a motion noting that VU management have recently hired human resources staff from Patricks and the CFA “which are organisations that have a long history of ‘union bashing’”.
The National Council called for “a massive union protest” at the next VU Council meeting on November 2.