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Uni fundraising staff paid 25 per cent less than other employees

Donors have given USyd over $700 million, but a prime fundraising contractor pays students who solicit donations over the phone far less than other comparable Uni staff.

The University has raised enough money to commission a giant neon sign displaying its then fundraising total. Image: Nick Bonyhady. The University has raised enough money to commission a giant neon sign displaying its then fundraising total. Image: Nick Bonyhady.

University of Sydney students raise over half a million dollars a year for the University, but because they are technically employed by a contractor, they are paid roughly 30 per cent less than USyd staff members occupying comparable jobs.

The American fundraising company Ruffalo Noel Levitz employs a team of students to call USyd alumni and ask for donations on the University’s behalf through its INSPIRED campaign. The campaign has raised over $770 million to date, of which about $500,000 a year comes from the student callers.

The callers are paid what a University spokesperson described as the “competitive” rate of $29.34 an hour, inclusive of a casual loading. However, if they were employed by the University directly under the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) that determines staff pay, the same callers would be entitled to over $35 an hour as level one higher education officers — the lowest paid role at the University.

If the student callers were instead classified as level two casual higher education officers, a position that requires only year 12 education without work experience and the performance of “straightforward tasks where procedures are clearly established”, they would receive almost $38 an hour — about $10 more an hour than they currently earn.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz did not respond to Honi’s request for comment by the print deadline, but it is entitled to pay employees less than the EBA rate since the bargaining agreement only covers staff employed directly by the University.

On Saturdays and evenings, Ruffalo pays its staff the minimum amount set out by the Contract Call Centres Award 2010: $30.32 an hour. During regular hours, its pay is better than the award rate, at $29.34 an hour. In 2014, Ruffalo paid its employees just $22 an hour at USyd.

While Ruffalo’s pay arrangements are perfectly legal, the University’s insistence that student callers “are employed by Ruffalo Noel Levitz and not the University” stands in marked contrast to the image that is presented to potential donors.

The callers, based on campus, ring alumni six days a week.

In those calls, Ruffalo trains its staff to rely heavily on their status as students and potential beneficiaries of donors’ generosity. One USyd marketing video features a student caller who says “As someone on a scholarship, I know what a huge difference it makes”.

In the same video, a Ruffalo supervisor enthuses “Our Sydney Telephone Program student callers love speaking with donors and sharing some of the exciting things happening at the University”.

Being paid as well as other staff is evidently not one of those exciting developments.

In a similar case, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), recently secured thousands of dollars in back pay for employees of the University’s Sydney Talent scheme through negotiations with the University.

Sydney Talent provided casual roles for students at the University, but did not initially pay them EBA rates. The critical difference between Sydney Talent and Ruffalo is that Sydney Talent staff were directly employed by the University.