Staff and union allege ongoing wage theft at Monash Uni

Monash University staff and the higher education union say the university is continuing to underpay workers despite agreeing to backpay $8.6 million in unpaid wages and committing to pay correctly.

In September, Monash announced it would give current and former casual tutorial staff the millions in backpay after an internal review found seven years of significant wage errors.

Monash University has been hit with further claims of staff underpayment. Credit:Wayne Taylor

But the National Tertiary Education Union has said the settlement is the tip of the iceberg and that hundreds of casual teaching staff are still not being paid correct rates, library staff have not been receiving penalty rates and full-time academics are having their workloads manipulated to impose hours of unpaid overtime.

Robert, a casual science tutor who did not use his real name for fear of losing his job, said while he was expecting a backpay lump sum, he was still getting paid incorrectly for his work.

“I have always been paid at the lowest rate possible, even when teaching a tutorial, because they changed the name of it so I’m paid at the lower ‘other required activity’ rate,” he said.

“The whole environment is dysfunctional and casuals are being ignored. It makes me feel sad, but I would like to fight to change things at the uni.”

The union’s Monash branch president and full-time academic Ben Eltham said wage theft practices were endemic at the university and across the higher education sector.

“Monash is absolutely in denial of how widespread the practice is there,” he said. “The official position is that all wage theft stopped. But we know many staff are still being underpaid.”

He urged Monash to share its internal audit findings with the union and for senior management, including provost Professor Sue Elliott, to meet with union members and affected staff.

A Monash University spokesperson said: “We value the role of all our staff at Monash University and we are dedicated to investigating any complaints raised in a rapid and timely manner.

“Monash has received no formal written complaint about underpayment of library staff and has requested the NTEU provide details of the alleged underpayment issue. We are awaiting a response from the NTEU to our request for information.”

The spokesperson said a recent “isolated pay issue” affecting nine Monash Education Academy casual staff had been quickly reviewed and resolved, and backpay should have been received.

Underpayment is an ongoing issue at Victoria’s universities. RMIT University is being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman, while workers have made wage theft claims at La Trobe University.

In September, the University of Melbourne apologised to its casual staff for years of underpayment but its workers and the union said the university was not adequately addressing ongoing insecure working conditions.

In the letter of apology, vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell said: “Putting things right will take time, but a great deal of work has already been done and is continuing as a matter of priority.”

Nationally, the University of Sydney, James Cook University and the University of New England have all been under scrutiny.

Though higher education was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, loss of international students and lack of federal government JobKeeper support, Mr Eltham said that should not mean universities were not accountable to employees.

“There’s no doubt unis have taken a hit, but that is not an excuse for not paying staff their legal entitlements,” he said.

Sarah Roberts, assistant secretary of the union’s Victorian division, said she did not know of any university that did not have some version of the wage theft problem.

“It will be no surprise to me if every institution in Victoria is prosecuted by the union or Fair Work or both within the next 12 months,” she said. “It’s everywhere now.”

Ms Roberts said underpayment practices would continue at universities until the sector made some fundamental changes and the federal government improved funding.

“Unis don’t really invest properly in compliance by ensuring they’ve got people at the coalface to manage this,” she said.

“The casual employees, they’re the ones bearing the brunt of the diminishment of higher education funding. That’s where it hits – the most vulnerable workers.

“The easiest way to make your budget with limited funds is to cut costs and the easiest way to cut costs is through casuals. The problem is also over-reliance on casual employment that’s baked into the sector; it’s all a vicious cycle.”

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