University of Wollongong staff have agreed to take a wage reduction and receive no pay rises for the next two years, as part of a union- negotiated deal to save as many jobs as possible at the struggling institution.
University management said 86% of academic staff and 87% of professional services staff had voted in favour an Enterprise Agreements variation, which would ensure there are no forced redundancies until May next year.
There will also be no formal pay cuts - as initially proposed by management - in the enterprise agreement.
Instead, take-home wages will be reduced by about six per cent via a compulsory leave purchase scheme, which could result in staff losing three weeks pay at a time of the university's choosing.
Any planned salary increases will also be deferred until November 2022.
The vote came after a month of talks in the University's Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), comprised of management, Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) representatives.
The university said it would now lodge an application as soon as possible with the Fair Work Commission to vary the agreements for a period of two years.
While job losses will be "minimised" under the supported plan, a large number could still be lost after May next year - with management previous flagging that it may still need to shed about 150 positions due to the ongoing financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings thanked staff for supporting the Institution at a difficult time in its history.
"Your vote is a critically important step to help stabilise the university's finances," he said.
"Thank you for your collective leadership in helping make this change. The agreement to make a temporary adjustment and reduce personal benefits is a selfless act to support each other and our university."
The deal comes after months of uncertainty for thousands of staff who work at UOW campuses.
Professor Wellings revealed in April that the institution - one of Wollongong's largest employers and economic drivers - would lose at least $90 million from its annual budget, and that these losses would be compounded over the coming years.
In May, management rejected a national proposal from the NTEU which was aimed at protecting job losses in the struggling sector, and in early June, proposed its own employment deal which would have resulted in a two year, 10 to 15 per cent pay cut for most staff.
Two-thirds of campus employees rejected this proposal at the urging of their unions, and, at the start of this month, Professor Wellings said he would be forced to axe up to 350 jobs after talks between management and the unions broke down.
However, all parties agreed to renegotiate, and Professor Welling said this had now set UOW apart.
"The position you have approved is distinctive and sets UOW apart," he said.
"It is a local deal that is multiyear, inclusive of the interests of two unions (CPSU and NTEU) and helps minimise job losses."
The Vice Chancellor, who will retire in June next year, acknowledged the continued uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and emphasised the need for staff to remain focused on their own health and wellbeing and that of colleagues, students and the community.
"The coming period will not be easy or straightforward," he said.
"We should expect that budget recovery could take several years and for our organisation to undergo transformation.
"We will need to keep operational costs constrained, defer large-scale capital expenditure unless there are investments from major partners, and move rapidly to adopt organisational changes which deliver recurrent savings.
"The collective decision of staff to adopt the variations to the Enterprise Agreements is an important step on this journey."
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.