Home | News | “If you’re not sure, pay more”: ACU response to underpaying staff
Australian Catholic University has apologised for underpaying staff. Picture: Supplied/ACU

“If you’re not sure, pay more”: ACU response to underpaying staff

A major national university with a campus in Brisbane has admitted to underpaying 1100 casual academic staff to the tune of $3.6m over seven years.

Australian Catholic University released a statement on Wednesday disclosing the discrepancy, which occurred between 2016 and 2023.

An extensive audit identified inaccuracies in how entitlements were calculated during this period, with all current ACU staff also advised via email on Wednesday.

The issues related to unpaid or underpaid entitlements for sessional staff with PhD qualifications, or academics who were subject/unit coordinators or lecturers-in-charge.

The university then contacted affected former and current staff to apologise, advise them of the amount owed to them, and offer reassurance that they will be reimbursed in full with interest as soon as possible.

Vice-chancellor and president Professor Zlatko Skrbis also publicly apologised.

"On behalf of the university, I would like to sincerely and unequivocally apologise on behalf of the university and the Senate to every employee – past and present," he said.

"ACU is committed to wage integrity, in accordance not only with our legal obligations but also with our dedication to upholding the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

"Our mission as a Catholic university commits us to treat every human person with dignity and respect."

ACU has disclosed the matter to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the Community and Public Sector Union, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the Australian Taxation Office, and UniSuper.

NTEU president Dr Alison Barnes declared wage theft endemic in higher education institutions after revealing more than 100,000 university staff have suffered $170m in unpaid wages in recent years.

"There's barely a university in Australia which hasn't been caught out stealing workers' wages," she said.

"Wage theft is the symptom and insecure work is the disease. 

"Underpayments and aggressive casualisation are baked into universities' business models."

NTEU ACU branch president Dr Leah Kaufmann said she is disappointed the union was not contacted sooner after the university became aware of possible underpayments in late 2022.

"Unlike some other universities, ACU management has reported itself, apologised, committed to full back payments within 28 days, and will be providing access to support for staff identified as the victims of underpayment," Dr Kaufmann said.

"The NTEU also welcomes ACU's commitment to pay every sessional employee at the highest rate until they can be confident in their payment systems ensuring staff are paid at the appropriate rate.

"This should be a lesson to all universities: if you're not sure, pay more."

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