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La Trobe University to back-pay staff over $2 million

Casual staff had not been paid for all hours worked, and nearly half were afraid to ask for their entitled pay.

La Trobe University will back-pay staff over $2 million in wages, superannuations and interest, following a settlement facilitated by the Fair Work Commission. 

According to a joint statement released by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) La Trobe Branch and the La Trobe Casuals Network yesterday, the University had underpaid casual academics by using a predetermined piece rate between 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2022. This was and is not permitted under the University’s current Collective Agreement. The current Agreement stipulates that casual academic staff must be paid hourly for all time worked in respect to marking.

Predetermined piece rate refers to the practice of paying casual workers by the amount of student papers marked, rather than the amount of hours worked. This allows the University to cut marking costs, as the rates do not reflect the time taken to mark. Some members of La Trobe NTEU reported having as little as 32 minutes mark an entire semester’s worth of a student’s work.

When asked why casual staff were not adequately paid to begin with, La Trobe said that “unintentional underpayments were the result of inefficient and outdated systems and processes and devolved decision-making” and that they “have now addressed these issues to avoid any future errors” and “regularly remind staff to claim the actual time spent marking”.

A survey conducted by the La Trobe Casuals Network found that 49% of casual staff said that “they feared repercussions if they were to simply ask to be paid for all their hours worked”. 

La Trobe NTEU Branch President Anastasia Kanjere said that “this particular dispute and this back payment does not come close to rectifying all of the underpayment, exploitation and injustice that casual workers experience – we know it is only the beginning.”

“In this dispute, we have taken a fight to management about marking and many brave casuals have come forward to speak about the reality of wage theft as a casual worker at La Trobe. But we know that wage theft of casual staff happens everywhere in our university and all across the higher education sector,” Kanejre said.

La Trobe agreed to back-pay staff $3.5 million in December 2021 and $4.5 million in 2022. This current back-payment comes a week after the University of Technology Sydney entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Commission for not adequately paying its casual staff.