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James Cook University vice chancellor Professor Simon Biggs said some "historical issues have been identified." Picture: NCA Newswire/Brendan Radke

JCU finds more underpaid staff

James Cook University (JCU) has launched a review into its payroll system amid concerns thousands of staff have been underpaid. 

The “historical compliance concerns” relate to casual employee payments across the north Queensland university, which has staff mainly based in Cairns and Townsville.

Vice-chancellor Professor Simon Biggs said the university was committed to addressing and resolving the issues. 

“I can confirm that unfortunately, some historical issues have been identified and we deeply regret these,” he said.

“I’d like to assure impacted staff that any required remediation is considered a matter of urgency by the university.

“A newly formed project team will conduct a thorough review of our payroll records.

“We have also informed the Fair Work Ombudsman of our decision to undertake a comprehensive review and will … review our processes and systems more broadly to ensure that they are more robust against such issues going forward.”

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has described the situation as “wage theft” and said an estimated 7500 current and previous staff had been impacted, though it was unclear how much had been underpaid.

NTEU JCU branch president Dr Jonathan Strauss said it was essential that every cent owed was paid back.

“Any underpayment is unacceptable. The NTEU will do everything in its power to ensure this money is fully recovered,” he said.

“JCU is a major employer in Cairns and Townsville. It’s critical that the entire community has faith the university is paying staff, particularly their lowest paid staff, properly.”

The NTEU said in 2022, JCU found that 200 of its staff had been underpaid superannuation benefits worth a total of $1m over an 11-year period. 

NTEU Queensland secretary Michael McNally said it was an example of “deep systemic problems” in the sector. 

“The national wage theft tally at universities is now beyond $170m – it’s a staggering and shameful number that demands urgent change,” he said.

“Federal and state governments must act on the failure of university governance and the consequent explosion in insecure work that has fostered the wage theft crisis in universities.”

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