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‘Disgrace’: Another uni underpays staff

REGIONAL PAPERS INQUIRY
Deakin University turned itself in to the Fair Work Ombudsman after discovering the underpayments. Picture: NewsWire / David Geraghty

Deakin University has admitted to wage theft in its arts and education faculties, but the tertiary education union says the theft is more widespread and it ‘may be forced’ to take the matter to Federal Court.

Deakin vice-chancellor Iain Martin emailed staff on Wednesday saying the university had underpaid casual academics in the two schools, via a ‘misapplication of marking formulas used to calculate the pay of sessional academic staff’.

The “inadvertent underpayment of some sessional academics” was identified and disclosed by the university, the vice-chancellor said.

“This should not have occurred.”

The known underpayments relate to casual, or ‘sessional’, academic staff. Picture: iStock
The known underpayments relate to casual, or ‘sessional’, academic staff. Picture: iStock

The disparity stems from payments per-hour versus per-paper marked.

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The university brought in law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth and financial services giant Deloitte to review the relevant payment practices.

The review has focused on the schools of communications and creative arts, and humanities and social sciences within those arts and education faculties.

“We are committed to expanding this review to determine whether there are any other affected sessional academic staff in other areas of the University,” Professor Martin writes in the email.

The National Tertiary Education Union claims underpayments “could exceed” $10m, and reckons there is evidence of underpayments in other schools, not just in arts and education.

REGIONAL PAPERS INQUIRY
The Deakin vice-chancellor says the underpayments ‘should not have occurred’. Picture: NewsWire / David Geraghty

The union wants broader repayments and “may be forced to initiate Federal Court action” if management doesn’t make a full admission.

“Deakin management’s refusal to admit a clear-cut case of wage theft for two whole years is a disgrace,” the union’s Victorian secretary Sarah Roberts said.

“Unfortunately, Deakin has only fessed up to stealing wages in two schools, but we won’t rest until this entire systematic scandal is fully exposed and every cent owed repaid,” she said.

The union argues payment per assignment marked – a piece rate – versus an hourly rate, better reflects the time needed to properly mark assessments.

“As late as February this year, management was still insisting the piece rate used to fleece workers didn’t exist – despite staff presenting rock solid evidence,” Ms Robert said.

The union says it lodged a dispute with Deakin about “systemic” underpayments, and the university self-reported underpayments in the arts and education schools to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

REGIONAL PAPERS INQUIRY
Deakin University Burwood campus. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Staff at the universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Queensland and Tasmania, UNSW and Monash University have variously underpaid staff for casual work or in superannuation in the past seven years.

“It’s absolutely shameful that just one day after the University of Queensland admitted to $8m in wage theft, Deakin has been added to the ever-growing list of university wage thieves,” National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes.

The union’s Wage Theft Report, released last year, found Australian higher education workers were underpaid $83.4m during the past three years.

“We need to end the insecure work crisis and implement a proper governance system if we’re serious about having the universities Australia deserves,” Dr Barnes said.