Monash University issues extraordinary legal threat after being accused of wage theft

National Tertiary Education Union

Monash University has threatened to refer the National Tertiary Education Union to the Fair Work Commission after being accused of systemic underpayments of casual academics.

In an extraordinary step, the University is disputing the interpretation of the Enterprise Agreement, specifically whether it has failed to properly pay the wages owed to casual academics across multiple faculties.

The dispute followed NTEU’s legal letter sent in July which alerted Monash to this wage theft.

This week, NTEU lodged Federal Court proceedings against the University.

The Union alleges that Monash systematically directed casual academics to be available for student consultation during a weekly, scheduled consultation hour, outside of the delivery of tutorials, and has not paid them for this work.

Monash has been on notice that the union would file in the Court since July.

Rather than paying staff for that hour, academics were told it was ‘associated work’ for the purpose of that tutorial rate.

The University’s position is that despite NTEU’s claims, it does not believe casual tutors should be paid separately for this work.

“If your boss at the cafe told you to come in and work a scheduled shift, you’d expect to be paid,” NTEU Monash Branch President Dr Ben Eltham said. “Teaching at a major university should be no different.”

“Monash University is directing academics to teach scheduled classes, on campus and face to face with students, but telling tutors they don’t deserve payment for those classes.”

“Monash University claims it delivers education of the ‘highest international quality‘,” Eltham said. “But you can’t deliver high-quality education if you won’t pay your teachers.”

“Rampant wage theft is a sector-wide issue underpinning universities business models,” NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said.

“The scale of the problem is completely outrageous and shows exactly why we need the federal government to make wage theft a crime.

“Wage theft is directly linked to the scourge of insecure work, with casual and fixed-term staff disproportionately affected.

“That’s why we need a definition of casual employment suitable for higher education and proper funding for more permanent roles.”

Monash University has issued a dispute, rejecting the NTEU’s allegations and claiming it did not underpay casual staff.

The union’s statement of claim, lodged in the Federal Court, alleges serious contraventions of the Fair Work Act using the example of two casual academics employed at Monash between 2015 and 2022.

The allegations are separate to Monash University’s admission it underpaid $8.6 million to casual academics in September 2021.

Monash University recorded a consolidated pre-tax operating surplus of $416 million in 2021.

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