Melbourne University taken to Federal Court over new wage theft claims
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that UniMelb’s benchmark payment system breaches the Fair Work Act and the Enterprise Agreement between the University and the NTEU.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is taking the University of Melbourne to the Federal Court of Australia for the second time over alleged staff underpayment and insufficient recording.
The Ombudsman alleges that 14 casual academic staff members within the University’s Arts Faculty were underpaid by over $150,000 between February 2017 and December 2019. Individual staff were allegedly underpaid between $927 and $30,140.
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that the University of Melbourne’s benchmark payment system breaches the Fair Work Act and the Enterprise Agreement between the University and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
Specific benchmarks differ across faculty schools, but allegedly require staff to mark 4000 words per hour, spending a maximum of one hour per student assessment.
Penalties for breaches of the Fair Work Act by the University of Melbourne reach $630,000 per offence.
The University of Melbourne said that “the University is working very hard on its remediation program, which has been under way for two years”.
The University asserts that affected staff have received their entitled back pay and that they are fully cooperating with the Ombudsman’s investigation.
The University of Melbourne branch of the NTEU said, “with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s filing today including allegations that management kept false or misleading records, our members keep asking how can we trust UniMelb management to do the right thing?”
“We believe that the solution to wage theft is secure work.”
The University is also facing ongoing litigation in the federal court over separate Fair Work allegations in August 2022. The Ombudsman alleges that the University “threatened not to re-employ […] two academics with the intent to coerce them to not exercise their workplace right to claim payment for […] extra work”.
The University of Melbourne is in the process of paying $22 million in entitlements to around 15,000 staff, many of whom no longer work at the institution. Casual staff members were underpaid for weekend work and minimum engagements.
Fairwork Ombudsman spokesperson Sandra Parker said in 2021 that payment based on fixed rates led to the “systematic underemployment of employee wages” in the higher education sector. The University of Sydney admitted in 2021 that it had stolen $12.75 million of staff wages through its use of piece rates.
A court date for the fresh allegations of wage theft perpetrated by the University of Melbourne is yet to be set.