The federal government JobKeeper wage subsidy announced on Monday to help businesses retain workers during the COVID-19 economic downturn must be extended to the tertiary sector, says the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
The union warns tens of thousands of jobs in the sector are in danger, and education institutions should have access to the subsidy scheme.
NTEU president Alison Barnes said nearly all universities won't qualify for the JobKeeper subsidy, and that the sector faces a “triple whammy” which could send the sector “into the abyss”.
“Our sector was hit earlier and harder by COVID-19 than many others due to the decimation of international student income,” Barnes said.
“We’re looking at potential mass job losses on a scale like Qantas – we don’t want our sector on the scrap heap.”
The union is also calling for higher education institutions to support calls for a financial rescue package and a jobs guarantee, and plans to meet with them this week.
Barnes said the NTEU has been asking for a targeted relief package since the COVID-19 crisis began, and argued this needed to happen “if we are serious about saving jobs”.
“We want to ensure that the sector remains in good shape to help with dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, as well as be a driving force in building our economic resilience as part of the nation’s recovery.”
She said while the union has had an initial exploratory discussion with the government, no assurances or advice has been received.
“Higher education is our third largest export industry. We are the sector that delivers the health and medical research to save lives, find vaccines and cure disease. We are the sector that can re-skill the workforce in a downturn.
"Our members are heavily focused on moving to online delivery and the inevitable challenges around working remotely where possible," Barnes said.
"Those staff whose jobs cannot be done remotely are rightly focused on their workplace health and safety, at the same time as being committed to delivering the best outcomes for students in very difficult circumstances.
"But ultimately, these issues become insignificant if you lose your job, so a jobs guarantee as part of a rescue package is our top priority."
Meanwhile, the NTEU welcomed the fact that the job subsidy program would benefit some smaller, private education providers.
“There will be some English language course providers for international students (ELICOS), private providers and vocational education and training providers who will qualify for this subsidy, so this will go some way to protect jobs in those smaller institutions.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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