Australian universities owe $83 million in unpaid wages

Australian universities, including top universities, have not paid their staff at least $83 million (US$57 million) since 2020, according to a new report.

The National Union for Higher Education (NTEU) has published an analysis (pdf) has identified 34 wage theft cases in the Australian higher education sector over the past three years.

In these cases, the union “conservatively” estimates that higher education employees owe a total of $83.4 million.

Moreover, this number could reach the $90 million threshold if three ongoing cases were added to the analysis.

The report said the NTEU recovered millions of dollars in wage theft from employees.

Also, some universities admitted wrongdoing when the incident came to light, while others filed lawsuits to combat allegedly underpaid staff.

Top Universities Low Wage Staff

The University of Melbourne, Australia’s largest tertiary institution, topped the list of educational institutions with $31.6 million in outstanding salaries and wages for workers.

Other top offenders are the University of Sydney and Monash University, which are estimated to have underpaid staff by $12.7 million and $8.6 million respectively.

In addition, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a popular university but not one with high international rankings, also appeared on the list with a disbursement deficit of $10 million.

Among jurisdictions, Victoria came first with total outstanding wages and salaries of $50 million. This is not surprising given the large number of higher education institutions in the state. New South Wales was her $25 million and Queensland her $2 million.

“Systemic wage theft is built into the university’s business model,” union national president Alison Barnes said in a comment obtained by the AAP.

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People walk past a sign at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, June 10, 2020. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

The NTEU denounced low-wage practices as “shameful,” saying large universities were making huge profits and senior managers enjoying millions of dollars in salaries at the expense of hard-working staff. Stated.

“The scale of wage theft in higher education is staggering,” Burns said.

“It is a real shame that the wages of so many Australian university staff have been stolen.”

Trade unions attributed the problem of low wages to the massive de-regularization of teaching and support jobs at Australian universities and called for more workers to find safe jobs.

It also called on the federal government to criminalize wage theft, impose stiff penalties on guilty employers, and investigate university governance.

University of Melbourne faces legal action against low-wage workers

The report found that the University of Melbourne faces further legal action over allegations that it underestimated the salaries of non-regular staff and created false or misleading records between 2017 and 2019. was announced when

The Fair Work Ombudsman recently announced that it has sued the university for violating the Fair Work Act by failing to pay 14 part-time staff at the hourly rates required by their corporate contracts for the period.

The ombudsman claimed that the university paid 14 part-time staff members of the arts department for scoring work based on “benchmarks” rather than company agreements.

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A full view of the University of Melbourne signage in Melbourne on November 17, 2020. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Specifically, contingent workers were allegedly required to enter working hours into the university’s personnel information system according to benchmarks rather than actual working hours.

This practice resulted in an estimated underpayment of $154,000 for 14 temporary staff, ranging from $927 to $30,140 per person.

This also caused the Fair Work Ombudsman to allege that the University of Melbourne, with the knowledge of several senior executives, created false or misleading records.

If convicted, the University of Melbourne could face fines of up to $630,000 for each serious offense and up to $63,000 per offense for other allegations.

A federal court in Melbourne has yet to set a date for an instructional hearing.

The case is still ongoing, but it’s worth noting that the University of Melbourne has made headlines in recent years for its underpayment practices.

In November 2022, the university apologized to approximately 15,000 current and former temporary employees and promised to repay $22 million in wages and salaries.

Lis Wang contributed to this article.