Jobs, affordable healthcare for thousands of students and COVID vaccine bookings are in jeopardy as time is running out before an Australian National University-based health service becomes insolvent, workers at the clinic say.
The National Health Co-op, a not-for-profit and member-owned operation with numerous sites across Canberra, entered voluntary administration in June.
Administrator Michael Slaven recently said NHC had entered into contracts for clinics at Coombs, Evatt, Higgins, Kippax and Macquarie to be restructured into independently owned and operated GP clinics under different names.
It is only the ANU and Chisolm sites that are still under negotiations and the NHC is expected to remain solvent until early October.
One worker at the university clinic, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they had to take mental health sick leave following the latest meeting with representatives from the ANU and the administration firm Slaven Torline.
The worker accused the parties of limited transparency about their plan and instead "dangled a carrot" for months before ANU told them at the meeting last week that they could not offer employment entitlements under their enterprise agreements.
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"I feel like I've got a big kick in the teeth for all the work I've put in," the worker said.
"It's just been as if they don't know what they're doing. They keep saying certain things about improving things and giving empty promises.
"I've missed many job opportunities and the fact that the timeframe is coming up, we have the right to be given certainty about what they plan to do."
The worker said if the clinic closed, then there would "a huge impact" on student healthcare and current COVID vaccine appointments.
"If we were told earlier about the situation, we'd be a lot more accepting," they said.
"No transition to anywhere is going to be easy, but we're not asking for the world."
The clinic was previously run by the ANU also as a not-for-profit for students before it partnered with NHC in 2017.
Another worker said the latest meeting was a "slap in the face" and accused the managing parties of "expecting us to continue to work for less than other ANU employees after giving us little information for weeks".
"It is a pretty appalling way to treat health workers in the middle of a pandemic to say we're going to offer you less," the worker said.
"They've been talking about how much they really care about our experiences and that they're taking this seriously before turning around and saying we won't be covered by the same enterprise agreement as everyone else.
"That just shows how hollow some of that reassurance has been."
We should be entitled to the same entitlements as people performing the same work directly employed by ANU.National Health Co-op employee
The worker claimed they were initially given the assumption that if the ANU took over operations, they would move to enterprise agreements under the university with better conditions, but that changed.
"We should be entitled to the same entitlements as people performing the same work directly employed by ANU," they said.
"Essentially we're second-class employees and it shows how little they care about keeping that place running.
"They're going to have a tricky situation because if it continues like this, they won't have enough staff to run the clinic."
An ANU spokesperson said the university hoped to finalise the future arrangements of the on-campus clinic in the coming weeks and ahead of the administrators' October time period for solvency.
"We have been working closely with remaining staff from the Kambri NHC clinic to ensure the continuity of on-campus health services for our community," they said.
"ANU remains committed to ensuring there is on-campus health care for our community."
The ANU last week appointed Dr Belinda Doherty to lead the clinic "as part of its commitment to the continuity of high-quality healthcare services on campus".
"We're safely transferring data from NHC that will be stored outside of ANU systems," Dr Doherty said.
"The clinic will also continue to play a role in the vaccination program in response to COVID-19."
The ANU's latest financial figures showed a $162.4 million operating deficit in 2020.
"The deficit is a better return than the previous forecast of $219 million under the university's recovery plan," it said.
Administrator Michael Slaven said any employees impacted may be able eligible for the federal government's Fair Entitlements Guarantee, a legislative safety net scheme of last resort.
The other NHC sites have not responded to requests for comment.
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