Union welcomes latest university wage theft court case

National Tertiary Education Union

The National Tertiary Education Union has welcomed the Fair Work Ombudsman launching legal action against UNSW over the latest wage theft scandal to hit universities.

The Ombudsman alleges UNSW breached the Fair Work Act between 2017 and 2022 by failing to pay staff wages at least monthly for all hours worked.

In the Federal Circuit and Family Court, FWO also alleged UNSW failed to keep proper pay records for casual academics and did not include basic information relating to pay rates and casual loading in pay slips.

The court action concerns 66 casual staff from the UNSW Business School.

The union’s conservative estimate is that staff across Australia have suffered $107.8 million worth of underpayments in recent years.

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said the Fair Work Ombudsman had made universities a specific focus.

“The sheer number of wage theft legal proceedings against public universities is damning evidence this shocking practice is rife across the sector,” Dr Barnes said.

“The insecure work explosion in universities prepared the ground for wage theft to spread like wildfire

“The Universities Accord must address the fundamental issues which have led to university staff having more than $100 million in wages stolen

“The governance model is completely broken. Vice-chancellors and senior executives must be held to account for baking wage theft into universities’ business models.

NTEU NSW Division Secretary Vince Caughley said all universities needed to get serious about tackling insecure work.

“The wage theft crisis that has engulfed the state’s universities is a disgrace,” he said.

“It’s well established that staff working conditions have a strong correlation with student learning conditions.

“So it’s obvious that systemic wage theft is having far-reaching consequences beyond employees.”

NTEU UNSW Branch President Associate Professor Richard Vickery said staff were dealing with soaring workloads after job cuts in 2021.

“These latest allegations which stem from UNSW self-reporting wage theft are shocking but not surprising given the proliferation of insecure work at the university,” he said.

“As we’ve seen at so many universities around Australia, casual staff are on the receiving end of what the Ombudsman alleges are serious contraventions of workplace law.

“Management must show it is serious about fixing the unacceptable practices that have sadly led us to this point.”

/Public Release.