Union welcomes wage theft court action against University of Melbourne

10 February 2023

The National Tertiary Education Union has warned the latest serious wage theft allegations against the University of Melbourne highlight a widespread problem within Australian higher education.

The Fair Work Ombudsman on Friday commenced legal action against the University of Melbourne over allegations 14 staff were underpaid $154,424 - ranging from $927 to $30,140 each - between February 2017 and December 2019.

The University is alleged to have failed to pay the casual academics for all hours of marking work required under its enterprise agreements and instead paid staff based on benchmarks which varied depending on the school in the faculty.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges the conduct amounts to ‘serious contraventions’ under the Fair Work Act, which carries penalties 10 times higher than would otherwise apply.

The University of Melbourne is facing separate legal action from the Ombudsman over claims it coerced two casual academics from claiming payment for work performed.

NTEU Victoria Division Assistant Secretary Professor Joo-Cheong Tham said:

“The allegations highlight how Melbourne University has become the wage theft capital of the university sector through its corporate culture and the actions of senior leadership.

“It illustrates how the insecure workforce approach of the University systematically results in exploitation and illegality.

“It is high time for the University to overhaul its employment model, as the Provost has committed to do, and establish job security as a key priority through targets for continuing employment in its enterprise agreement.

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said:

“We welcome the Fair Work Ombudsman’s latest court action against the University of Melbourne but the scale of this problem across higher education is reprehensible.

“The Ombudsman’s allegations of ‘serious contraventions’ show the gravity of the situation we’re dealing with.

“We have been warning about the scourge of systemic wage theft in our sector for years. When are we going to see some action that finally puts an end to the endless stream of shameful allegations like these?”

“The root causes of this insidious problem must be urgently addressed. Insecure work and university governance need serious reform to stop more staff from being ripped off.

“We need federal laws that criminalise wage theft with strong penalties for the most egregious cases.

“Universities must urgently address the explosion in casualisation that allows wage theft to flourish.”

Contact: Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480 / [email protected]

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