Monash University issues extraordinary legal threat after being accused of wage theft

Monash University threatened to refer the National Higher Education Association to the Fair Work Commission after it was accused of paying systematically low wages to ordinary academics.

In an unusual move, the university contests the interpretation of the institution’s agreement, specifically whether it has failed to properly pay the wages owed to informal academics from multiple faculties.

The dispute came on the heels of a legal letter sent by NTEU in July that alerted Monash to this wage theft.

This week, NTEU filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the university.

The union alleges that Monash systematically directed informal academics to be available to consult students during a scheduled weekly consultation hour, outside of lesson delivery, and did not pay them for this work.

Monash had been aware that the union would be brought to court since July.

Instead of paying employees for that hour, the academics were told that this was “associated work” for the purpose of this tutorial rate.

The university’s position is that, despite NTEU’s claims, it does not believe that casual teachers should be paid separately for this work.

“If your boss at the coffee shop tells you to come in and work a scheduled shift, you will expect to be paid,” said Dr. Ben Eltham, president of the NTEU branch in Monash. “Teaching at a major university should not be any different.”

“Monash directs academics to teach scheduled classes on campus and face to face with students, but tells teachers they are not worth paying for these classes.”

“Monash University claims to offer world-class education,” Eltham said. “But you can’t provide a high-quality education if you don’t pay your teachers.”

“The outbreak of wage theft is a sector-wide issue that underpins universities’ business models,” said Dr. Allison Barnes, NTEU National President.

The scale of the problem is absolutely outrageous and shows exactly why we need the federal government to make wage theft a crime.

Wage theft is directly related to the scourge of unsafe work, where casual employees and those working on fixed-term contracts are disproportionately affected.

“That’s why we need to identify appropriate temporary employment for higher education and appropriate funding for more permanent roles.”

Monash University issued a dispute, rejecting NTEU’s allegations and claiming that it did not pay less than casual employees.

The union’s lawsuit statement, filed with the Federal Court, alleges serious violations of the Fair Work Act using the example of two accidental academics employed by Monash between 2015 and 2022.

The allegations are separate from Monash University’s admission that it paid less than $8.6 million to informal academics in September 2021.

Monash University reported a pre-tax consolidated operating surplus of $416 million in 2021.

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