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Monash University accused again of systematic underpayment of casual staff

Monash is coming under pressure once again for years-long wage theft allegations.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has accused Monash University of systematically underpaying casual staff in a letter sent to Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner on 18 July. 

The breaches allegedly occurred across at least two departments dating back to at least 2015, according to NTEU Branch President Ben Eltham. The amount of pay owed to casuals is currently unknown. 

The alleged underpayments occurred due to Monash’s classification of consultation hours with students as “associated” work to the delivery of tutorials. Staff are currently not paid for such work.

In the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, casual staff are required to hold consultation hours which they were told were not separately remunerated. Casual staff in the Department of Economics were told that they “owed” management additional unremunerated work in correspondence obtained by the NTEU. 

The School of Social Sciences told staff that they had the choice to hold consultation hours. Michael Lazarus, a casual academic in the Department of Philosophy, described this as “giving staff a choice between saying no and lowering educational standards, or saying yes to underpaid work” in comment provided to The Australian.

The NTEU claims that the alleged underpayments constitute a “serious breach” of the Enterprise Agreement between the Union and the University as well as a breach of the Fair Work Act. Each “serious breach” could attract a maximum penalty of over $130,000.

The NTEU demands that Monash amend internal policies to avoid future underpayments. It is also demanding that Monash engage a third party to audit the alleged breaches, commit to repayment in full and for the Vice Chancellor to provide casual staff with a written apology. 

The alleged underpayments occurred in addition to Monash’s $8.6 million underpayment of casual staff from 2015 to 2021, where tutorials were misclassified as to reduce the payable rate for staff labour. The NTEU recently filed a case in the Federal Court on behalf of a Monash academic who is allegedly owed more than one thousand hours of back pay. 

Eltham claims that many casual staff have yet to receive payment since Monash admitted to underpayments in October last year, with the University refusing to publish the results of their previous underpayment audit.

A spokesperson for Monash said that the University was “seriously considering” the NTEU’s letter and were requesting further information from the Union. They added that they “valued the role our sessional staff play in the delivery of excellent education and takes our obligations to pay our staff very seriously”. 

NTEU National President Alison Barnes said that “It is deeply disappointing but entirely unsurprising that the Union has had to bring yet another case of wage theft to the attention of a Vice Chancellor. Universities continue to pretend this is not a systematic issue underpinning their business models,”

Barnes called for Education Minister Jason Clare to implement the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Job Security, including the introduction of effective casual conversion rights in higher education and to criminalise wage theft. 

“Staff at universities across Australia desperately need job security and to be paid correctly for their work,” Barnes said. 

In 2021, Monash recorded an operating surplus of $431 million. Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner was paid $1.2 million the same year.