One third of Australian universities admit to wage theft

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes made the following comments today:

“One third of Australian universities are now engulfed in the sector’s wage theft scandal.

“The ABC has reported that Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi named in Parliament a further three universities that have reported underpayments to staff to the Fair Work Ombudsman – the University of Newcastle, the University of New England and James Cook University.

“The Union has already recovered millions in lost wages for members and is now preparing fresh legal campaigns. NTEU has recently taken Federal Court action against private higher education provider JMC Academy over alleged wage theft and sham contracting.

“We do not believe wage theft is confined to the now at least thirteen universities that have admitted to it.

“If a third of the sector now admits to underpayment you can be sure the problem goes a lot further.

“Insecure employment creates wage theft.

“The root cause of wage theft is insecure casual and contract employment. This creates a completely lopsided power dynamic. Managers feel confident to squeeze employees. And employees are intimidated – they think if they enforce their rights it’ll limit their career prospects.

“There is a Senate Inquiry into wage theft and we welcome Vice Chancellors being summoned to appear and explain their employment practices.

“We are pushing to flip the proportion of insecure employment in universities on its head. Currently up to seven in ten University employees are insecurely employed.

“This is scandalously high. Insecure employment should be fleeting and rare. Unfortunately the opposite is currently true.

“Wage theft has terrible consequences. It deprives modestly paid casual workers of the income to pay bills, plan for their future or take a basic holiday. We know of cases where members have lost up to half the income they should be entitled to.

“This is widespread in our sector. We need tougher penalties for those who steal from their workers, including criminal penalties.

“Unions need far better access to records including for former employees and non-members. And we need the right to inspect those records quickly, without having to wait 24 hours.

“Australian universities should also be compelled to report accurate figures on casual and limited contract employment. This would provide a much clearer picture of which university employees are likely to be exploited.”

Dr Alison Barnes,

/Public Release. View in full here.