Monash to repay $8.6m in stolen wages, though casuals remain short-changed

Monash avoided classifying the issue as wage theft, instead using the term “unintentional underpayments.”

Monash University will repay its casual staff $8.6 million in stolen wages dating back to 2014, with staff concerned about further wage theft in the future.

In emails sent to affected staff last week, Chief Human Resources Officer Phil Vaughan confirmed that “payment errors” occurred due to inconsistencies in how education activities were defined between university handbooks and timetables.

Monash has attempted to avoid classifying the issue as wage theft, instead using the term “unintentional underpayments.”

Staff paid one-third of their entitlement for certain classes

A Monash internal review found that certain classes were described as laboratories, practical classes, demonstrations or workshops on the University Timetable, while simultaneously being described as “tutorials” in the relevant Unit Guide or Handbook. 

This distinction is significant because, under Monash’s Enterprise Agreement, the hourly rate for tutorials is $143.92, which is three times the rate for “other required academic activity,” including laboratories and workshops ($47.97).

Due to this discrepancy, Monash has resolved to pay the higher tutorial rate for these classes, accounting for approximately $7.7 million in stolen wages.

A Tweet from Ben Eltham, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Monash Branch President, describes the repayments as “significant,” with one tutor set to receive $25,000 in backpay.

Monash also identified that some staff completed their timesheets incorrectly (i.e. selecting the ORAA rate rather than the tutorial rate), which accounted for approximately $0.9 million.

Internal review leaves questions unanswered

Issues were first raised in 2019 in the Faculty of Engineering, leading to an internal review across 10 faculties that commenced in early 2020.

Monash has so far been opaque about the details of the internal review. It has not explained how it calculated the repayments and has not told staff which units and semesters have been affected, making it impossible for staff to determine the correct amount of payment.

Emails obtained by Honi revealed that Monash engaged external consultants to assist with the review. However, it has not released the identity of these consultants, or the audit report it commissioned to examine payroll records.

Monash says that it will provide further information once the review and documentation have been finalised and when remediation payments have commenced.

Concerns remain about Monash short-changing casual staff 

Despite staff receiving backpay on this occasion, staff are concerned at how Monash is increasingly recategorising what would normally be tutorials as “workshops,” “demonstrations,” and “practical classes,” in order to pay casual staff below tutorial rates moving forward.

Emails obtained by Honi suggest that university management has become more vigilant with classifying education activities, instructing teaching assistants to refrain from labelling workshops as “tutorials”, which would mean they are paid higher rates. 

Management has refused to meet with affected staff about the issue. According to Eltham, management invited the NTEU to a Zoom “briefing” without being told who could attend. When the Zoom link was forwarded to a small number of staff members who had been underpaid, the Provost and Vice-Chancellor Susan Elliott canceled the meeting.These developments are particularly concerning given that approximately 70% of Monash staff are casual or sessional staff, meaning that Monash has one of the highest casualisation rates of any Australian university.