In this article from The Age, Ben Schneiders exposes how women are disproportionately employed in insecure jobs in Victoria Universities.
Almost one in every three employees working at a university in Victoria is a woman in a casual or fixed-contract job,
suggesting the crisis of insecure work in higher education disproportionately affects women.Analysis of jobs data from eight Victorian universities, including Melbourne and Monash, shows they employ nearly 50,000 people, and more than half of them, both men and women, are in insecure work. At Swinburne and RMIT the proportion exceeds 60 per cent of staff.
Jennifer Lacy-Nichols has spoken out about insecure work and
precarious contracts in academic research.
Women are disproportionately represented as staff at universities, where they make up 58 per cent of all employees, including those in administrative and academic roles. It is a common feature of female-dominated industries in Australia to experience lower pay and more job insecurity.
“You’ve got a gender pay gap, and it’s getting worse if one in three people who work for you is a woman in insecure work,” said Sarah Roberts, assistant Victorian secretary at the National Tertiary Education Union. “It’s the universities’ dirty little secret, and they are not prepared to do anything about it.”
An investigation by The Age on the “gig economy” in scientific research and higher education showed universities had increasingly relied on a casualised workforce as science research had been starved of funds, in particular under the former Coalition government, which also denied JobKeeper funding to the sector.
One of the researchers interviewed, Jennifer Lacy-Nichols, described the pressure on her from short-term contracts, including taking minimal maternity leave after the birth of her child.
She said she was “exceedingly lucky” to be able to research the detrimental role business practices can play on public health, but that academia “could be a hell of a lot better” in terms of gender equity and job security.
Analysis of detailed employment data from Victorian universities – which unlike in other states the state government requires them to publish – shows similar levels of insecure work for both women and men. Two of the biggest employers of women, as a proportion of staff, are La Trobe and Deakin.
Deakin University did not respond to requests for comment, while a La Trobe spokeswoman said increased job security and gender equality were “key priorities”.
About two thirds of its staff are women, and they comprise a similar proportion of those in insecure work at the university.
The spokeswoman said its overall number of casual staff had reduced over many years and La Trobe was ranked ninth in the world by the Times Higher Education rankings for gender equality. At Deakin about 60 per cent of its staff are women, and they also make up a similar proportion of those in insecure work.
Across Australia, 11 universities are under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman for underpaying staff. It is a priority target of the workplace watchdog, along with industries with terrible records for breaching labour laws such as hospitality and horticulture. Roberts said there was “no excuse” for the underpayments or levels of insecure work and that research and teaching had been “core activities” for centuries at universities. “If they think it’s bad they should fix it.”
Victorian Higher Education Minister Gayle Tierney said universities “need to do more to ensure their talented, passionate staff are properly supported in their work.”
In March, she wrote to university vice-chancellors about the “unacceptable” wage underpayments in the sector and asked for an update on what they were doing to improve job security.
Tierney said she was in “regular dialogue” with them over improving wages and job security while the state government had recently passed “nation leading legislation criminalising wage theft across all sectors”.
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said universities need to do better.
“That’s why this is one of the issues I will ask a group of eminent Australians to look at as we prepare the Universities Accord,” a proposed agreement between universities and the new government.