The National Tertiary Education Union, the union representing all university staff, has launched a petition to try and save the job of a University of Sydney academic with a disability.
Dr Niko Tiliopoulos, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology, is seriously immunocompromised and has multiple severe respiratory conditions. After he sought a flexible working arrangement, the University proposed to terminate his employment on the grounds of ill health.
Dr Tiliopoulos, like almost all staff in the higher education sector, has worked and taught remotely over the past three years during the Coronavirus pandemic. These arrangements were extremely successful, with student evaluations of Dr Tiliopoulos indicating his remote teaching is exceptional. His medical practitioners and the University’s Independent Medical Examiner have recommended that he continue to work remotely to protect his health.
However, the University has initiated a process under its enterprise agreement to terminate Dr Tiliopoulos’ employment on the grounds of ill health. The NTEU had initially attempted to negotiate outcomes with the University internally, including urging the University to investigate workplace adjustments to keep Dr Tiliopoulos employed, but the University maintained its insistence that Niko would be terminated.
The NTEU also initiated industrial disputation and a Medical Review Committee, which have so far failed to protect Dr Tiliopoulos’ job due to the University’s insistence on their right to proceed with the termination.
Quotes attributable to Mr Vince Caughley, Division Secretary, NTEU NSW:
“The University of Sydney claims to be an employer of choice for staff with disability, but they’re failing here.”
“Niko, just like every university worker across the country, carried the sector through the pandemic while working remotely and delivering world-class education online.”
“Now Niko’s asking for some support and flexibility to keep doing his job remotely due to his disability, and the University of Sydney’s response is to try to fire him.”
“If you work at the University of Sydney and you have or obtain a disability, you’ll always be worrying about them trying to fire you for it instead of making any efforts to support your career. Niko’s fight is every NTEU member’s fight.”
“If the University of Sydney is willing to take this extreme, heartless action when a worker with disability asks for some flexibility and support, then the University’s present and future staff will always feel that pressure on them.”
“There are so many potential ways to keep Niko employed and contributing to the work of the University of Sydney. The University is laser-focused on its stubborn refusal to consider remote teaching, but it’s also refused to give any details about its consideration of other options.”
“We’re hoping that sensible heads prevail, and that the Vice-Chancellor intervenes not only to save Niko’s job, but also to uphold the University’s commitments to its Disability Inclusion Access Plan and its internal Disability At Work Network”
Quotes attributable to Dr Niko Tiliopoulos:
“I’ve had to adapt my life to accommodate my disability, and I hope the University of Sydney will come to the table and discuss adapting its practices to genuinely accommodate the needs of its staff living with disability.”
“Discrimination against individuals with disabilities in a workplace in Australia is not just disrespectful to basic human rights; it is a blatant reflection of systemic injustice that denies equal opportunities. The time is well overdue for workers to shatter these barriers, challenge the biases, and ensure workplaces are truly inclusive. Disability must not define one's professional journey.”