Home | News | Total wage theft expected to exceed $400m: union
NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes. Picture: NCA Newswire/James Croucher

Total wage theft expected to exceed $400m: union

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has called for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into wage theft in universities after revealing institutions have now underpaid staff by almost $400m since 2009.

The data released on Wednesday showed a total of $382m in confirmed underpayments, a number significantly higher than the $159m reported in December 2023, and set to keep rising.

The figure includes $203m in confirmed underpayments by 30 universities and $168m in provisions for underpayments that have been made by nine universities in annual reports.

The Australian Catholic University, James Cook University and Deakin University have admitted to underpaying staff this year.

Deakin is yet to reveal just how much it underpaid staff, but the union estimates to be $10m in "underpayments occurring at one institutions that has confirmed systemic underpayments, but has concealed the dollar amount."

The union also claims there are two institutions that have confirmed underpayments, but have withheld details so no reasonable estimate can be produced.

NTEU president Dr Alison Barnes said some universities have self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman, others have fought "tooth and nail" against wage theft claims.

“Vice-chancellors and senior executives must be held to account for the industrial-scale wage theft that has become the shameful hallmark of Australian universities," she said.

"Wage theft is a crime. Who has lost their job? Who is going to jail?

"We're calling on all political parties to back an urgent parliamentary inquiry into out-of-control university wage theft."

The NTEU estimates there are at least 131,471 higher education staff that have been underpaid by employers in the last 15 years, excluding four wage theft cases that are yet to be finalised.

Two-thirds of university staff do not have secure work and are employed on a casual basis due to the irregularity of 'teaching time' – semesters and trimesters – and staff employed on casual and fixed-term contracts suffer wage theft disproportionately.

The union said cases of underpayment usually stem from being paid for fewer hours than the work takes, paying piece rates for marking or lecture preparation instead of actual time worked, or "sham contracting" in an effort to undercut Award and Agreement entitlements.

Many insecurely employed staff are reluctant to raise concerns about not being paid correctly because they rely on the university renewing their contract every teaching period.

The number of staff affected and total wage amounts owed by individual universities can be found here.

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