Home | Top Stories | UniMelb, USyd, RMIT underpaid staff more than $67m
UniMelb, USyd and RMIT were deemed Australia 'top three culprits' for wage theft.

UniMelb, USyd, RMIT underpaid staff more than $67m

Australian universities have underpaid their staff by at least $107.8 million since 2020, according to a new report.

The ‘NTEU wage theft report’, released Monday, analysed 34 separate incidents of wage theft across 22 universities and found the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney and RMIT underpaid their staff the most.

National Tertiary Education Union president Dr Alison Barnes said wage theft has been “systemic” for years.

“The sheer scale of wage theft in higher education is staggering. It’s absolutely shameful that so many Australian university staff have had wages stolen,” Dr Barnes said.

“It’s heartbreaking our public universities are being run like greedy corporations with no respect for paying hard-working staff what they’re owed.”

The most common forms of wage theft include unpaid overtime, being paid on piece rate, teaching misclassification or being paid on benchmarks, the report said.

The NTEU said casual workers were at the highest risk of wage theft due to "power inequities and fear of reprisal including the loss of work."

In total, the report estimated that two-thirds of staff employed in Australian universities are on casual or fixed-term contracts.

"Many workers are reluctant to raise complaints over underpayment or to ask for compensation
for hours worked for free when they require contract renewals every teaching period," it said.

In Victorian universities, staff were underpaid by more than $50.2 million.

In NSW, higher education staff were unpaid by nearly $25 million, and workers in Queensland by $2 million.

The University of Melbourne had the highest number of underpayment claims in the country, with a total of $45 million reportedly owed.

In August 2022, the Fair Work Ombudsman launched legal action against the university after it allegedly threatened two casuals who claimed extra hours.

The workplace regulator launched further legal action against UniMelb in February over allegations of underpaying casual staff and keeping false or misleading records.

The university said they are working on an “extensive program” to identify underpayment practices.

“We are also working hard to reduce our reliance on casual employment, to re-think our workforce model and to improve our employment and management practices,” a university spokesperson told Campus Review.

“The university recognises that workforce structures which rely heavily on casual employment are neither desirable nor sustainable.”

The University of Sydney had the second highest number of underpayment claims in Australia with $12.5 million owed to staff.

A USyd spokesperson said the university plans to introduce new guidelines in March to "support consistent practice".

“We want to free our academic staff from some administrative responsibilities so they have more time for teaching and research, and are therefore improving processes for allocating and documenting casual academic work and reconciling timesheets," a spokesperson said.

RMIT had the third highest number of underpayment claims nationwide, owing a total of $10 million, followed by Monash University which owed $8.6 million.

An RMIT spokesperson told Campus Review the university "took compliance obligation seriously."

"If ever RMIT is provided with evidence to suggest that any employee may not have been correctly paid, it will investigate the matter and take action where needed,” they said.

In August 2022, staff from RMIT threatened industrial action after negotiations around enerprise agreements fell through.

An academic from the university told Campus Review at the time that casuals were being "blacklisted" if they pursued wage theft claims.

The NTEU report said The University of Newcastle owed over $6 million in unpaid wages to its staff.

UON Vice-Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky AO said this was due to "errors in their casual payment system" in 2020.

“We did three things - overpaid, paid correctly and paid incorrectly,” Professor Zelinsky said.

“The university then self-reported and fixed up the payments with interest and superannuation, so that no one would be disadvantaged.”

Professor Zelinsky said the university is establishing new systems and processes across all its institutions to avoid similar issues.

After the release of the report, federal education minister Jason Clare said the government was “committed” to criminalise wage theft.

He also announced plans to officially introduce legislation banning the practice later this year.

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