THE resolve of Monash University Gippsland staff keen to see a merged university entity thrive in the region from next year was tested on Friday with the news Monash sought to close its local print services, leaving the fate of nine workers hanging in the balance.
Just days earlier Monash revealed a range of new courses to be offered from a rebranded university next year – to be known as Federation University of Australia – prompting Monash Gippsland Pro Vice Chancellor Robin Pollard to urge locals to “spread the message” of a “new era of excitement at the campus”.
By Friday, numerous Monash staffers who spoke with The Express were more wary than excited, fearing wider implications of a move by Monash to “strip Gippsland of its printing assets” and sack staff ahead of a formal campus take-over by the University of Ballarat in January next year.
In a statement, Monash sought to distance the “proposal” to close its in-house Monash Print Services – which it said may “unfortunately mean that up to nine staff will be made redundant” – from the campus merger.
The statement said the print services closure would have been “considered regardless” and did not “have wider campus employment ramifications”.
It referred to a declining demand for print work and material, with the move to online and digital documents, and claimed the service was losing more than $1 million per annum, a deficit “projected to worsen in future years”.
National Tertiary Education Union Victorian secretary Colin Long said he was not buying that explanation.
He said the union was “furious” previous promises by Monash “there would be no redundancies (in Gippsland) and all staff currently employed at Gippsland would be transferred to the university” had been abandoned.
“We feel we, the staff and the community have been deceived and not properly consulted and we are certainly going to fight this through all the processes available to us,” Mr Long said.
He said staff had been led to believe a new FUA would seek to expand distance education units and increase student numbers, in turn ensuring the viability of printing and auxiliary services, including despatch and graphic design, but instead they now faced closure.
“We think this decision is really premature,” he said, backing staff claims Monash had systematically fleeced Gippsland of some of its more profitable ventures over past years in a ploy to reduce profit and justify stripping physical assets from the campus.
It is understood talks were underway at Monash Gippsland on Friday between staff and Monash and UB leadership, with staff seeking a reversal of the closure proposal.
Monash said a final decision on the proposal would be made once a two-week consultation period ended, but The Express believes affected staff have already received letters outlining redundancy plans, listing individuals’ names and the dates by which they could expect to be made redundant.
Monash University Gippsland Student Union executive officer Dan Jordan said he also understood redundancies would be “forced”, adding “we don’t support this”.
He said the decision contradicted a Monash undertaking to “gift” its resources, assets and intellectual property and staff to the new FUA entity.
“MUGSU called for an independent audit of all of the Gippsland campus to ensure its (assets) were properly accounted for if they crossed over to a new entity – or that Monash remunerate Ballarat (University) for any assets Monash retained,” Mr Jordan said.
“If Monash want to take assets from the printery they should reimburse Ballarat or leave it here.”
Other staffers who spoke to The Express on the condition of anonymity said some of the employees affected by Monash’s most recent decision had served the local campus since its Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education days.
They said the service had once been considered a front-runner in the distribution of off-campus learning material until Monash pulled out of its Open University contract several years ago.
While it is understood Monash Gippsland and UB had limited, if any, input to the print services closure proposal put forward by Monash’s Melbourne-based operation, some warned it spread fear of further “organisational change” ahead of next year’s merger.
UB Vice Chancellor David Battersby was unavailable for comment at the time of The Express going to print.