Campus Review Vol 32. Issue 04 - August - September 2022 - Page 13

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The business model universities rely on is not just broken , it ’ s deeply unfair .

A fair day ’ s pay

Claim lodged at Deakin as NTEU says wage theft is ‘ endemic ’.
By Emilie Lauer

Eleven universities across the country have been flagged and are being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman for potential wage theft , with the NTEU saying some casual staff could be owed up to tens of thousands .

In a letter sent to Deakin University management , the NTEU lodged a wage theft dispute in regards to the alleged underpayment of casual academics for marking .
According to the NTEU , underpaying for marking is an issue that has been going on for years at Deakin but is front of mind at the moment .
“ Instead of paying casual staff for the number of hours that they work in relation to marking , as they ’ re required to do under the collective agreement , they give casuals a defined number of hours to put in their timesheet ,” NTEU ’ s Victoria branch assistant secretary Sarah Roberts told Campus Review .
“ And this is where there is a gap : the number of hours that they ’ ve worked is a lot more than the number of hours they ’ ve been told to put into their timesheet .” Since 2019 , the NTEU has been successful in anti-wage theft disputes across Victorian universities , including UniMelb , RMIT and Monash , leading to over $ 30 million being recovered for casual academic staff , inclusive of interest and superannuation .
“ It ’ s quite endemic across the sector and our theory is that they don ’ t tell people how to abide by the agreement that got voted and approved by the Fair Work Commission ,” Roberts said .
“ People who are engaging casual employees and figuring out how they should be paid are doing it within the constraints of a funding envelope that they ’ re given by central university management .
“ The money that they ’ ve got from the central management is not enough and they have to figure out how to cut corners , and this is one of the corners that are being cut .
“ That ’ s woefully inadequate to actually pay people properly for the work that they do .”
Chasing down this money for casuals who have been underpaid is the unions ’ number one priority , Roberts said .
“ This sort of business model universities rely on is not just broken , it ’ s deeply unfair to people who are some of our smartest and brightest and most hard working in the economy .”
To help casual staff determine how much they are owed , the NTEU has put a “ wage theft calculator ” online .
According to Roberts , some casual staff have been owed up to $ 40 or $ 50,000 as the claims can go back six years , which is the current statute of limitation .
The treatment of casual staff at university has been an issue for years , Roberts said .
Often , casual staff work during teaching weeks and have to get other jobs over the holiday periods , which is why Roberts believes many casuals are leaving the profession as it isn ’ t a sustainable way of living .
“ There ’ s a level of absolute outrage , especially when you plug into the picture the fact that people who are at the helm of our higher education institutions and who are presiding over this wage theft are taking home up to million dollar pay packets .
“ That is nothing but rubbing it in the face of casuals who are not being paid appropriately for the work that they do .”
In its dispute letter , the NTEU defined a number of actions the university has to take to resolve the issue , with the priority being paying back what it says is owed to academic staff subjected to the alleged wage theft .
The union is also asking Deakin to create proper guidelines that will have reasonable expectations for marking , grading and feedback . These guidelines will also have to take the experience of the assessor in consideration .
In addition , the NTEU is also requesting a written apology from the vice chancellor .
“ We want an apology , we want them to apologise to staff who are feeling rightly pissed off and ripped off about this , and we want to talk about what they ’ re going to do in the future to make it not happen anymore ,” Roberts said . ■