Legal action against University of Melbourne highlights wider problem

National Tertiary Education Union

The National Tertiary Education Union has welcomed the Fair Work Ombudsman’s legal action against the University of Melbourne over allegedly coercing and punishing two casual academics to stop them claiming payment for extra work.

The Ombudsman has filed documents in the Federal Court alleging the University took adverse action against one of the academics when she was not offered any teaching work after claiming payment for extra work and made complaints to the university.

The FWO also alleges the University threatened not to re-employ the two academics with the intent to coerce them to not exercise their workplace right to claim payment for the extra work.

It is alleged their supervisor said words to the effect of “if you claim outside your contracted hours, don’t expect work next year”.

The maximum penalty per breach is $66,600.

NTEU Victorian Division Assistant Secretary Sarah Roberts said the matter would not have reached court without the courage and hard work of union members.

“It’s great to see the Fair Work Ombudsman launch this legal action against the University of Melbourne but this highlights the deep problems within the sector,” Sarah Roberts said.

“It’s the kind of serious response needed to teach universities a lesson – they need to get their house in order.

“The union has included restrictions on casual and fixed-term work and an 80 per cent secure work requirement by 2024 in its log of claims for a new enterprise agreement which is under negotiation.

“Universities’ business models are built on wage theft. Sadly, that can foster a culture of pressure being piled on hard-working staff not to claim money they are owed.

“University governance is clearly rotten at the highest level – because wage theft just keeps happening on their watch.

“The root cause is the massive reliance on insecure work: casuals don’t speak up about wage theft as they’re scared of losing their jobs.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman’s case comes after TEQSA, the Victorian Wage inspectorate and a Senate committee looking into university wage theft. Federal and state governments must launch parliamentary inquiries into university governance.

“Apologies from Vice-Chancellors are not enough. Nothing short of a root and branch review of university governance in our sector will fix this.

“Each university must take proactive steps to make this right – meaning backpay, with interest and super, and strong protections for staff against future wage theft.”

NTEU National President Alison Barnes said:

“Our members consistently tell about similar allegations to the ones raised by the Fair Work Ombudsman against Melbourne University.

“It is only the fear of retribution from speaking out that is stopping more people coming forward.

“We know this is an insidious problem right across Australian universities.

“That’s why we need federal laws criminalising wage theft.

“The crisis of insecure work and wage theft which is rampant across universities must be urgently addressed to stop more hard-working staff being exploited.”

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).