Union claims SCU prefers casuals

Southern Cross University has refuted claims by the National Tertiary Education Union that hundreds of casual academic staff will have to join the dole queue this summer when their contracts end.

NTEU-SCU secretary Craig Wilson said SCU had 30% of its academic work performed by casual staff, compared with the national average of 15%.

“Of the remainder, 40% are on fixed term contracts, so most staff don’t have any job security. It becomes a problem for the university to recruit and retain good teachers, researchers and support staff,” Mr Wilson said. “We become a second-rate university and none of us want to see that.”

But SCU director of Human Resources Sharon Farquhar said she was extremely disappointed that the union was making unsubstantiated claims in the midst of enterprising bargaining negotiations.

“We have been progressing well with negotiations and are very close to reaching agreement on eight clauses, including the employment of casual academic staff,” Ms Farquhar said. “In the 12 months to March this year, we have increased our non-casual academic staff numbers by 54. In addition, we have 15 academic positions which are currently in the process of being filled. Despite these claims by the NTEU, we will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

But Mr Wilson accused the university of being “commitment phobic”.

“The uni gave us every indication they are aware of the situation and would do something about it,” he said. “What we want to see is some clear commitment of what they intend to do rather than some vague motherhood statement... There is no mechanism or targets for when it is appropriate to use casuals.”

NTEU-SCU vice president Dr Grant Cairncross said SCU was facing a “mass exodus” of senior academic staff as many approach retirement age.

“It’s now clear that SCU intends to save money by continuing to replace these departing staff with unlimited numbers of lower paid, insecurely employed teaching staff. Many casual and fixed-term teaching staff are employed on just two 12-week contracts, so for the other 28 weeks of the year these staff are forced to rely on unemployment benefits as their only source of income,” he said.

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