UWA change plan hard to sell

For the second time in a decade management is having a hard time communicating the purpose and process of a savings-drive restructure proposal

The Fair Work Commission has heard a complaint from a UWA staff member that the university consultation on proposed redundancies in Social Sciences was sufficiently inadequate as to breach the university’s enterprise agreement. And there has been uproar over the proposed job cuts in Molecular Sciences.

There could be more to come in the new year. VC Amit Chakma has said seven or eight, all up, of the university’s 21 schools may need a formal process to meet savings targets, ((the others are expected to get there via voluntary separations) CMM July 16)).

If restructure proposals to date are any indication the UWA community will face more division and dispute. So far, staff in both schools have comprehensively contested the savings plans – and nothing works better in such arguments than detailed claims that management has got its numbers wrong. Once disputes move from the policy high-ground into the operational weeds overall objectives are oft ignored.

But there’s a bigger number involved – Professor Chakma’s $70m savings target –he briefed staff on the need to address a structural deficit a year back and ensure “future financial stability” and soon after rolled-out a savings strategy. Unless the university addressed its financial problems, it would “continue to lurch from one crisis to the next,” he warned (CMM September 28, October 19 21 2020).

Not all agree UWA’s books are in that bad shape, as James Guthrie and Garry Carnegie have argued in CMM, October 28 2020 and July 18 2021) but whatever the situation, management has failed to convince all of the campus community that staff cuts are the only option.

Part of the problem for management is that the university community has been here before, and not that long ago. When Dawn Freshwater, first as senior DVC and then as VC oversaw academic and professional staff restructures (CMM March 16, July 14, and August 25 2016).

The process started badly indeed for management when the Fair Work Commission told university leadership to put its plan on hold, because of – inadequate consultation. (CMM February 18, 22 2016).