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UNSW management may pay back casuals for up to $36 million in stolen wages

The University of New South Wales is reviewing casual underpayments following pressure from the NTEU.

Casualised staff at UNSW may be compensated for potentially massive underpayments after an independent audit in the Annual Report of the University of New South Wales revealed wage theft of up to $36 million.

UNSW management have commenced a review to identify any underpayment of casual academics going back to 2014.

According to a UNSW Sydney spokesperson, they are also “implementing new systems and processes to minimise the risk of any future underpayments, including a new enterprise time-sheeting and claims management solution.”

Although the spokesperson noted that “it is not yet possible to quantify the underpayments that may have occurred, or the number of casual staff who may be affected,” NTEU NSW Secretary Dr Damien Cahill said “the budgeted provision [in the audit] for potentially $36 million in underpayments is shocking, but not surprising.”

“The NTEU has consistently raised the issue of wage theft with UNSW management since concerns were noted by our members in 2019. Following NTEU demands, the management announced an audit of casual underpayments last year.”

“We will be pressing University management for an explanation of this figure when we meet with them. Potentially thousands of casual staff may have been underpaid.”

Likewise, the University of Sydney (USyd) Casuals Network and NTEU are pursuing an underpayment claim with USyd management following an audit which found that 90% of casual staff participants performed unpaid work during Semester 2, 2020.

The University of Sydney has not yet indicated that it will provide compensation for any of the stolen wages.

“The tide is turning. It is now well known that wage theft of casuals is standard practice at universities across Australia,” a spokesperson for the USyd Casuals Network told Honi, demanding that management pay back casual staff and implement new systems of payment.

“For University of Sydney management to keep denying wage theft occurs is becoming increasingly embarrassing for them. The longer they deny, the more they will damage the University’s reputation and the larger amount they will have to pay back as more and more casuals are underpaid.”

It is estimated that 70% of staff across the tertiary education sector are employed insecurely, with universities increasingly relying on an ‘underclass’ of casualised workers.

In August last year, ten universities including UNSW and USyd were in the process of repaying casual staff, undertaking audits or facing disputes. The University of Sydney admitted to wage theft of almost $9 million due to ‘errors’ in its payroll system.

“Wage theft is baked into the university business model … It is high time to end rampant casualisation in the higher education sector,” Dr Cahill said.