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Almost 100,000 Australian university staff out of pocket by $159 million in wages theft

Australian university staff have collectively lost almost $159 million in stolen wages.

Dec 05, 2023, updated Dec 05, 2023
Sydney University wis on of the Australian universities caught up in the wages theft..  (Photo: AAP Image/Paul Miller)

Sydney University wis on of the Australian universities caught up in the wages theft.. (Photo: AAP Image/Paul Miller)

National Tertiary Education Union research shows more than 97,000 employees in the sector have been underpaid by a combined $158.7 million.

There were 55 wage-theft incidents across 32 higher education institutions, with most taking place since 2014.

Melbourne University had underpaid employees by the most, according to the report, with $45 million of lost wages to more than 30,000 workers.

The University of Wollongong and the University of Sydney were the next highest institutions on the list with underpayments of $18 million and $14.7 million respectively.

However, the union said the report did not capture the full picture of underpayment in the sector, with eight wage theft cases still ongoing in courts.

The union’s national president Alison Barnes said the figures outlined were alarming.

“The fact that wage theft is so widespread in Australian universities is a damning indictment of the current governance model,” she said.

“Wage theft has a devastating impact on the lives of university staff. It can mean struggling to make ends meet, being unable to afford to pay bills or being forced to take on additional work.”

The report comes as the federal government looks to crack down on wage theft with its new workplace laws.

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The laws, which passed the lower house last week, would see employers who deliberately underpay staff face up to 10 years in prison.

The workplace changes are next due to be debated in the Senate in February.

Dr Barnes said the level of wage theft in the university sector was driven by widespread casualisation of staff.

“Unaccountable vice-chancellors on million-dollar salaries have been in charge of this crisis with almost no accountability,” she said.

“If universities are to finally become exemplary employers, then we need to end the scourge of casualisation using state and federal powers including funding.”

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