First published Thursday 23 June 2011 in Farrago.
NTEU denounces threats to ERC and Baillieu librarians, writes Erin Handley.
The University of Melbourne intends to cut 13 staff from the Baillieu and ERC libraries, according to a draft proposal obtained by Farrago.
Library management staff have deemed these jobs “excess to requirement” and are instead opting for fewer, higher-trained positions.
The 13 positions to be cut involve work at the library loans desk. They are to be replaced with 4.5 new positions at a higher level of responsibility and pay rate.
Thirteen “directly affected” staff were informed of the proposed redundancies on 23 May at a confidential meeting, the doors to the meeting room guarded by security personnel.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) denounced these pre-emptive tactics and the secretive method in which the information was conveyed to staff, arguing that all library staff would be affected by any redundancies.
“The manner has been atrocious, heavy-handed and disrespectful,” said Ms Melanie Lazarow, Secretary for the NTEU Melbourne branch.
Reasons given for the proposal include the need for a more highly-skilled workforce, cost containment, and the automation of services, such as self-checkout machines, booksorters and e-resources. The redevelopment of the library will also result in a single service point model: there will be only one loans desk per library, with areas dedicated to extended hours access. This means fewer staff will be required, according to the proposal.
HR Manager and Acting Senior Adviser Catherine Frecker was unavailable for phone interview but instead issued an email response to questions posed byFarrago. She reiterated that the proposal is a draft, and explained that the way “students and staff use the Library and the type of services they demand has changed. Clients now want faster transactional services, like loans and returns.”
One library employee, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the “last minute announcement” seemed to target staff who had expressed “vocal opposition to various aspects of the Baillieu redevelopment”.
The proposal “seems more like it’s a chance to get rid of people that are seen as troublemakers, rather than something that’s based on the actual operational needs of the library,” this staff member said.
When asked to comment on employees’ concerns about being targeted as “troublemakers”, Ms Frecker responded: “The Library is improving services to staff and students to meet changing client needs and to bring service levels in line with national and international standards for academic institutions.”
The proposal heightens widespread concerns about a general trend towards reducing services in the libraries. It is feared that the staff cuts will result in reduced opening hours, an increasingly disorderly collection, and more difficulties for students in locating the books they need.
The outcome may be not only structural, but personal.
“I’ve just been told I may be out of a job at the same time I’m going to have my first child,” confided Morgan Saletta, one of the affected library staff.
NTEU Secretary Ms Lazarow said of the draft proposal: “It’s not a proposal. We think it’s just a couple of sketchy notes.”
The proposal “anticipates the loss of 13 staff without a considered idea behind the loss of staff,” she said.
According to the proposal, workshops are to be held with affected staff in order to “support them to understand the proposed changes, and obtain their feedback”. However, the NTEU passed a motion on 23 May that regarded “workshops with only the targeted staff as inappropriate and as pre-empting an outcome”.
“I believe they are going about the Change Management process by… defining only those 13 as directly affected, whereas everyone’s affected, starting with the people left behind to cope with increased workloads,” Ms Lazarow said.
She also noted “the NTEU wishes to, in fun and exciting ways, get its message of a well-resourced, well-staffed library across to the university community”.