Colleagues outside Australia have asked me to clarify for them the issue of redundancies in Australian universities. This is not easy to do, since different universities have different processes, generally negotiated with their union representatives as part of an individual university’s enterprise bargaining procedures. (Enterprise bargaining involves employees, typically although not necessarily via a trade union, negotiating an industrial agreement which covers salaries, working conditions, redundancy provisions and related issues.) A research paper published in 2004 reported that in 1994 “the issue of redundancy was covered in only 13% of agreements, yet by 1997… redundancy provisions were becoming a feature of many enterprise agreements.”
Redundancies can come about for a variety of reasons. When they are a consequence of performance-related issues the term “redundancy” often is not technically correct; “separation” may be more appropriate. However, “redundancy” can nevertheless be used in counselling sessions with the academic concerned, who may be informed that the actual grounds on which their separation is sought are budget-related, although performance-related issues can occupy a significant part of the discussion. Therefore, from a practical viewpoint it is not really possible to maintain the distinction; we shall use the term “redundancy” instead of “separation.”
Although, in universities, redundancy is a euphemism for getting rid of staff (both academic and non-academic) whom the university no longer wants, or needs, or can afford to keep, in the area of total quality management (TQM) — a field that should not be completely divorced from the experience of managers — “redundancy” and “redundant quality” have quite a different meaning. If a manufacturer’s aim is to produce items as inexpensively as possible, against pre-specified quality criteria, then redundant quality — that is, quality greater than the the specified level — should in theory be avoided, since it entails unduly high costs. On the other hand, redundant staff at an Australian university are often those who, in some respect, do not meet the quality requirements determined by managers.