Staff at the University of Canberra have rejected an offer by management for a new enterprise agreement, as academics continue to speak out against "crushing" workloads and a toxic culture on campus.
On Monday, vice-chancellor Deep Saini said more than 74 per cent of staff had voted no to the proposal, which largely resembled the existing agreement and had been put to a ballot last week without union approval.
"This result means that the offer has been wholly rejected," Professor Saini told staff.
The vote followed two days of strikes, the first time staff at the university have walked off the job in more than a decade.
But while the National Tertiary Education Union says it is ready to restart negotiations with chancellery by the end of the week, Professor Saini said the university would not look to bargain again until the new year.
"We don't see why staff should have to wait," union division secretary Rachel Bahl said, stressing concerns about job security, workloads and pay were going unaddressed in the meantime.
"Morale is very low."
Many academic and professional staff have reported clocking up more than 50-hour weeks without extra pay and said things had gotten worse this year after jobs vacated during a round of voluntary redundancies were left empty.
The university has said it remains in the process of filling the positions, and head of human relations Kirsty Dwyer has encouraged staff to speak to her directly about concerns.
The university has also stood by the controversial "assistant professor scheme" it designed to fast-track academic promotions, despite concerns it is exploiting early career researchers.
At least half of academics don't make it through what has become known around campus as the "burn and churn program" or the "seven-year probation", and a group of senior professors, as well as the union, have now called for it to be axed.
Dozens of former and current academics at the university have told The Canberra Times of the scheme's destructive toll on their health, saying they felt pressured to pump out research to avoid early dismissal while struggling under enormous teaching loads.
But Professor Saini has defended the program as "sector-leading", similar to those in North America, and says it has helped drive the university's recent rise in international research rankings.
Misty Kirby was on track in her final year of the scheme in 2016 but said she decided to leave the university after its "toxic culture" took a toll on her health. She returned to her native United States, where she agreed assistant professor schemes were common but were run very differently.
"It's not the seven-year track that's the problem, it's the lack of support," she said.
In her first year, Dr Kirby said she was teaching and writing multiple courses, at one point with 660 students under her guidance.
"That was about 10 per cent of the entire university back then [in 2010] being taught by me," she said.
Ms Dwyer said the wellbeing of staff was paramount.
"I’m not disappointed [by the vote result], it’s an opportunity for us to really work with our people on the issues they’ve raised in the process," she said.
"The workload stuff is really important to me [but] there's already protections in the agreement on that."
Ms Bahl said existing provisions around workloads were vague and "clearly not working", referring only to face-to-face teaching hours. A suggested clause to ensure tasks were achievable within "a reasonable working week" had been rejected by management in the negotiating room.
While the university's offer had included a new provision to help improve job security for some staff, the union said this only added in a "right to apply" for a permanent role with no guarantees, as were enshrined in agreements at some other universities.
Improvements to both parental and domestic violence leave had been welcomed, but many staff had viewed the "sign-on" bonus of $500 for permanent staff and $250 for casuals included in the offer as a bribe to vote it through, Ms Bahl said.
Some feedback sessions had been conducted with assistant professors in recent months, but Ms Dwyer said there were no plans to review the scheme.
One academic on sick leave, who described the assistant professor program as unrealistic and demoralising, said she had faced sexist comments when complaining about the high workload.
More than 1000 staff voted in the ballot, which the university said represented 59 per cent of those eligible to vote.
Professor Saini said the current agreement would continue in the meantime, including a slated 1.9 per cent pay rise in January.