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The Queensland University of Technology.

Union takes QUT to court over fixed-term contracts

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is taking the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to federal court, alleging that university management used fixed-term contracts to avoid paying staff redundancies.

The application, filed last Thursday, seeks a $280,000 relief payment for three staff whom the NTEU allege are owed redundancy payments after "nearly 10 years on dodgy fixed-term contracts."

The firm representing the union, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, will argue that QUT should have paid the staff redundancies when their work was "no longer required" at the end of 2022.

NTEU Queensland secretary Michael McNally said the workers were on inappropriate fixed-term contracts.

"When they sought to have their roles converted to continuing positions, not only were they refused, they were told their academic roles didn’t exist anymore," the secretary said.

"It’s not just QUT. The abuse of fixed-term appointments is rife, right across the sector.

"This case shows how the use of fixed-term contracts undermines job security. You are never safe at the end of one contract if a university decides it wants to change your job title."

QUT refutes the allegations.

"We cannot provide details on this matter as it is subject to a claim before the courts," a spokesperson said in a statement to Campus Review.

"However, we reject the NTEU description of QUTs actions in relation to these individuals."

The final amendment to the Secure Jobs, Better Pay laws saw fixed-term contract use limited, a rule that came into effect one day before the union announced the court filing against QUT.

However, Mr McNally said he believes the amendment won't do much to further protect academics and university staff from fixed-term contracts.

"An unintended consequence of the wording in this new change to the law is that it will probably not limit the use of fixed-term employment in higher education, as we saw it failed to do for casual academic staff," he said.

"The NTEU plans to campaign for change to ensure university fixed-term employees receive the same benefits as workers in other sectors."

Principal Lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Giri Sivaraman said even though the contracts took place before the Fair Work amendments, they still violated the law.

"Unfortunately what the university failed to do is give these workers the dignity of being employed permanently," the lawyer said.

"The university breached the Fair Work Act by repeatedly offering these fixed-term contracts in contravention of the [enterprise and bargaining agreements].

"This case is about holding employers to account and making sure that workers get what is rightfully theirs."

Other amendments to the laws have taken place over the last 12 months, and include changes to flexible work arrangements, remuneration, enterprise bargaining agreements, and industrial action industry policies.

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