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Casual staff launch $2 million wage theft claim against USyd management

Staff are demanding renumeration for six years of unpaid marking and administration work.

Today, eighty casual staff at the University of Sydney lodged a claim of $2,090,559 in wage theft, demanding back pay for six years of unpaid marking and administration work.

The USyd Casuals Network and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) are alleging that the underpayment is a breach of the Enterprise Agreement and have sent a formal grievance letter to University management requesting a meeting to respond to a list of demands.

The eighty casuals assert they were underpaid by a total of $2,090,559 for marking and administration. If they are representative of the 2455 casuals currently on payroll in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), this could mean a total wage theft of up to $64 million in wage theft in the Arts faculty alone.

Staff are demanding remuneration for 14,409 unpaid hours of administration work, 13,190 hours of unpaid marking and 21,407 hours of misclassified marking.

Casualised staff now make up 52% of the workforce at USyd and many are denied secure employment despite performing work on an essentially ongoing basis.

The launch of the dispute comes just one week after FASS dismissed wage theft as “a mistaken belief that casual academic staff are entitled to be paid for any time spent at their discretion and choice,” following an internal investigation that has been criticised for several shortcomings.

Dr Robert Boncardo, NTEU representative and member of the Casuals Network said: “It is an open secret in FASS that casual academic staff perform core work but are not paid appropriately.”

“The University of Sydney has both a legal and a moral responsibility to pay back affected staff members and to ensure that these breaches of the Enterprise Agreement stop.”

The grievance is not new, following three reports over the past 18 months which all found evidence that the overwhelming majority of casual staff perform unpaid work due to the payment of marking, administration and preparation work at a piece rate rather than an hourly rate.

While staff are contracted a set amount of time for each task, this doesn’t cover the amount of time needed to complete them to an acceptable standard. Staff are allotted only 13 minutes to mark and provide feedback for 1000 word essays, forcing them to perform unpaid work in order to maintain quality education for students.

Furthermore, the Casuals Network claims that the marking of essays requiring significant academic judgement has been paid at the incorrect rate, meaning that 21,407 marking hours have been misclassified and gone underpaid.

The University of Sydney is the latest in a string of universities accused of wage theft as casualisation soars in the sector. Grievances have been raised at University of Melbourne, RMIT, University of Western Australia, and the University of New South Wales.

“We are in the throes of a reckoning across Australian universities with regard to the super-exploitation of the sector’s most precariously employed staff,” Dr Boncardo said.

“This reckoning has now come to the University of Sydney. We demand management immediately end its systematic underpayment of casual academic staff and remunerate them for unpaid wages”.

NTEU Casuals Representative, Dani Cotton, said: “The ‘Uberfication’ of the university sector has to stop. With so much casual work going unpaid, this impacts not only our ability to pay our bills during this pandemic, but the quality of the education we are able to deliver.”

Students, staff and supporters can sign an open letter supporting the Casuals Network’s campaign against wage theft, and for conversion rights for casual staff to become permanent staff here.