Investigation into underpayment of casuals continues

The University seemingly set out to investigate casuals’ wage theft without a specific plan to speak with casuals. The University has since disputed this claim.

The University has commenced the next stage of its employee payments review, which commenced in 2020. Previously, the focus was on all staff covered by the Enterprise Agreement (EA) but will focus on casual staff going forward.

According to a staff-wide email sent Monday, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Annamarie Jagose indicated that if payment errors to casual academic staff are found, they will prioritise repayments.

“[If] we become aware of any errors in the payment of casual academic staff, action will be taken as a priority to investigate and repay any monies owed,” she said

Jagose indicated that the review would now shift focus to a qualitative study of local practices, as work classification and allocation differs significantly across the University’s faculties, schools, and disciplines.

“Different interpretations have been taken to the application of the EA, potentially resulting in inconsistency in local guidance, timesheet completion or payment errors,” Jagose said.

According to the email, the University will engage heads of school, school managers, unit of study coordinators, and administrative staff to better understand the allocation of work and payments to casual staff.

“[W]orkshops and surveys are being rolled out to gather input,” she said.

In a statement to Honi, USyd NTEU Branch Committee Casual Representative, Finola Laughren, indicated that the most effective way to understand the underpayment of casuals would be to consult with them directly.

“They need to listen to those who know most intimately what casual academic work is like at the university — casual academic staff themselves,” Laughren said.

Laughren claims that USyd has yet to directly consult casual staff to understand the scale of underpayment affecting casuals.

“It is therefore unfortunate that Provost Annamarie Jagose’s email makes no mention of any specific intention to do so,” she said.

“Management is not just out of touch with the experience of casuals at this university but, worse than this, they have no genuine interest in finding out.

“Casuals experience systemic underpayment and exploitation.”

The email comes against a backdrop of escalating industrial action taken against the University, with better protections for casuals being a key demand, including conversion pathways to permanent employment.

Last year, Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott acknowledged that USyd owed staff, predominantly casuals, $12.75 million in a review of payments between 2014 and 2020. 

According to the 2021 Annual Report, $10.9 million had been spent on staff repayments out of a budgeted $31.1 million. An undisclosed total was expected to be repaid by Q2 2022.

“We are still working through detailed analysis of payments to be made for the period November 2020 to mid-2022, and expect the next tranche of remediation payments to be made by the end of this year,” a University spokesperson said.

“We are fully committed to paying all our staff their full entitlements and are working through a thorough and detailed process to review and ensure remediation is correct and complete,” they said.

“There are some remaining payments that relate to former staff of the University. Those past employees who remain unpaid have not yet responded to a number of contacts from the University, and we remain active in trying to contact them.”

Other Australian universities have also been embroiled in systemic underpayment of casual staff, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, Deakin University, Newcastle University and Charles Sturt University.

*Update 26/10/22: The University has since indicated that they have a plan to directly engage with casuals, despite not being specifically addressed in the original email.

“The University wrote to the NTEU on Monday 17 October, prior to sending the all-staff email referenced above, to inform them that the University will be undertaking targeted workshops with casual staff to understand their experience in relation to how their engagement is managed on a day-to-day basis. We informed the NTEU that we would be in contact shortly to seek their nominations for those sessions,” Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost Professor Annamarie Jagose told staff in separate communications.

“So, we are using this review ‘to genuinely consult with casuals’ and remediate any staff who are found to have been underpaid,” Jagose’s statement read.

Moreover, we are committed to substantially reducing our levels of casualization.

With respect to EA bargaining, we have proposed to recruit an additional 300 continuing academic staff and reduce our academic casual workforce by 20% over the life of the agreement, as well as creating new categories of employment that would provide greater job security, access to 17% superannuation, and all leave entitlements.