Psychology School to repay stolen casual wages

Despite this admission, the University maintains that “the School [of Psychology] was not aware” that this practice resulted in wage theft.

The School of Psychology has told staff that it will repay them for wages stolen as part of an exploitative scheme for calculating marking hours of casual staff.

Under the system, casual tutors were not paid for 15 minutes of the “non-contemporaneous marking claimed for each tutorial” they taught, said an email from the School to staff. 

This is to say, casual staff were paid for 45 minutes per hour of tutorial preparation work they were meant to undertake. This was on the basis that the other 15 minutes was spent marking. However, casual tutors were not able to mark in their preparation time, resulting in them being unpaid for time spent marking. 

Even if staff were able to spend that time marking, an affected tutor told Honi “that’s squeezing us to an inhumane and unsafe level… Both unsafe for staff and students.”

After staff and members of the National Tertiary Education Union raised concerns about the exploitative nature of this system, the University elected to review this procedure. It subsequently determined that “the School [of Psychology]’s approach was not consistent with practice elsewhere in the University with respect to tutorial payment for casual staff and that it resulted in casual staff being paid less than they should have paid.”

The University will compensate casual tutors who had their wages stolen, with remediation payments to be made “once calculations … have been finalised.” The University also apologised to staff for its theft. 

Despite this admission, the University maintains that “the School [of Psychology] was not aware” that this practice resulted in wage theft.

It has been almost a year between this decision and the announcement that stolen wages would be paid back, with the University stopping the exploitative practice at the end of Semester One 2022.

An affected tutor within the School of Psychology told Honi that in 2021 they were told to only claim eleven hours of pay for marking almost 50, 2,500-word, 3rd-year, analytical philosophical essays. The tutor was required to provide substantial feedback on those essays, which was checked by the unit’s lecturer for quality. 

The tutor was effectively required to mark 11,000 words an hour. Typical University policies require casual markers to mark at a piece rate of 4000-6000 words per hour. Even these piece rates, the University of Sydney Casuals Network argues, result in markers not being paid for all their time worked.

The University of Melbourne was taken to Federal Court by the Fair Work Ombudsman earlier this year for their 4,000 word-an-hour piece rate for essay marking, which is alleged to have resulted in the systematic underpayment of casual staff. Piece rates for marking were the cause of wage theft at Deakin University and are a cause of ‘systemic’ wage theft in the university sector according to Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

The University of Sydney has previously admitted to stealing $12.75 million from casual staff.

In a statement, the University of Sydney said, “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all our staff receive their full entitlements and have a process to ensure any claims of underpayment are carefully investigated and resolved appropriately. ”

“We hoped to complete a detailed qualitative review of casual academic practices across the University and then make remediation payments. However, we have decided to progress remediation payments for this particular practice prior to completion of this review.

“The remediation process takes some time to complete to make sure we are as thorough as possible, including investigating how many staff are impacted, checking payroll data and timesheets over several years, reviewing processes, identifying entitlements owed and making payments.”

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