Thousands of RMIT employees will be back paid approximately $10 million after the NTEU accepted the university’s proposal to settle its casual payment dispute. In June this year, the NTEU lodged a dispute with RMIT over wage theft dating back as far as 2014. The union alleged this form of wage theft occurred due to the university paying academic casuals the “standard” rate of pay per hour for marking, instead of the required “academic judgement” rate – a difference of between $10 and $20 per hour. After the NTEU referred the matter to the Fair Work Commission last month, RMIT proposed to settle the dispute without admission of liability by increasing each “standard” rate payment to casual academic staff for assessment work since 3 July 2014 to the “academic judgement” rate. This will affect approximately 3,900 past and current employees and cost RMIT an estimated $10 million, accounting for super and interest. The NTEU ultimately accepted RMIT’s proposal and will discontinue the dispute. The terms of a deed of release signed by the Parties require RMIT to provide monthly updates to the NTEU on its attempts to contact and backpay past staff, and to meet with an NTEU-nominated “Oversight Committee”, who also have the discretion to bring other underpayment matters to the university’s attention.
RMIT is also required to backpay current casual staff before the end of the year and to contact past casuals who are entitled to payment under the settlement agreement within three months. NTEU Victorian Division Assistant Secretary Sarah Roberts said while it is pleasing workers will finally get paid what they are owed, RMIT deserves no praise for simply agreeing to remunerate its workers. “Make no mistake, if it weren’t for the NTEU members who fought RMIT tooth and nail for this outcome, it is unlikely casual staff would have seen one cent in back pay from the university. “This outcome is a result of months and months of hard work, with brave members coming forward to share their stories of how this has affected them, in addition to preparing written statements and providing extensive pay and assessment records at the university’s request. “Wage theft has deep human consequences, depriving modestly paid casual workers of the income to pay bills, plan for their future or take leave. “In some instances, workers have been waiting seven years for the money they are owed. “It is encouraging that RMIT has agreed to further training and communication to ensure a consistent awareness and understanding of RMIT policy relating to the payment of academic judgement rates. “However, the critical fact RMIT and all universities across Australia must grapple with, is that wage theft is the result of insecure work inflicted on university workers through short-term contracts and casual employment. The fact that RMIT have refused to pay members of the Oversight Committee who are casual employees is emblematic of the chronic under-appreciation (and exploitation) of these workers. “Wage theft has become ingrained in universities’ business models and must end now. “RMIT is not the first institution to admit to wage theft and unless every university is compelled to undergo a thorough audit of its practices, it won’t be the last.”