Monash University has taken the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to the Fair Work Commission in a bid to avoid repaying up to $10 million in allegedly stolen wages owed to casual staff at the University.
Monash has applied to the Fair Work Commission to retrospectively change the enterprise agreement in place between the University and the NTEU from 2019. If successful, Justice John Snaden has said the union’s wage theft claim could be extinguished, at least in part. The Federal Court has paused the union-backed case while Monash’s was being considered.
The university has hired a top-class legal team from Clayton Utz and other leading barristers, the same firm which USyd management hires for enterprise bargaining. In a recent submission, the university said that the language was “ambiguous”. A spokesperson said it applied “to provide certainty to both staff and the university.”
Last November, Monash admitted to $8.6 million of wage theft from 2014, along with further underpayments. This included casuals not being paid the correct rates for teaching and marking, and full-time academics having their workloads manipulated to hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. It is also alleged that the University instructed professional staff to fudge their electronic rosters to give less than minimum shift hours.
Furthermore, Monash University allegedly misled the Senate Committee on the matter. Monash University’s former Chief Human Resources Officer, Brigid Connors, told the Senate Economics References Committee in 2020 that “Monash staff are paid in compliance with Monash’s legal obligations.” However, at the time that Monash made this written submission, the university was already conducting an audit into underpayments.
NTEU Monash Branch President Ben Eltham noted that the outcome of this case has “economy-wide implications.”
“If employers can respond to underpayment claims by retrospectively varying their Agreements, this could have a chilling effect on underpayment claims brought by employees across the economy,” said Eltham.
The Commission will hear Monash’s application on 18 and 19 May.