USyd casuals speak out during Senate underpayment inquiry

In a public hearing this morning, a panel of academic staff from Casual, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers (CUPW) provided evidence of university salary theft for a Senate investigation into illegal underpayments. .

The investigation began in November when underpayment of casual staff at Australian universities came to light. Subsequently, ten universities were in arrears and the University of Sydney admitted stealing salaries of nearly $9 million. Individual cases are currently being heard.

Today’s session saw Dr Yaegan Doran from the USyd Casuals Network talking about the situation at the University of Sydney.

Underpayment “integrated” into the university model

In its brief, the USyd Casuals Network claimed that the underpayment is the result of casual staff being paid on a piece-work basis. In this system, payments are tied to a “piece” of work – for example, a number of graded lectures, tutorials, or assessments.

The time required to complete each piece is then estimated. However, staff reported that the actual number of hours needed to complete these tasks, in order to maintain the quality of teaching, far exceeds the number of hours allocated and preparation time is often not covered. .

A Casuals Network audit found that in the first six weeks of last semester, 84% of participants performed work in excess of the hours they were paid for, meaning underpayment averaged $2521 per person.

“Because the university system relies on these piece rates with casual staff, underpayment is built into the system,” Dr. Doran said.

“Our choice is: do our job badly, harm our students and no longer be employed, or do our job and work many unpaid hours.”

University denies large-scale salary theft

The University has been criticized for not following up on several opportunities to address its salary theft issue.

In the University’s submission to the Senate inquiry last September, former Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence denied that staff were victims of “large-scale wage theft” or that precariousness in higher education leads to underpayment.

Dr Spence claimed the cases of underpayment resulted from “payment errors” rather than under-classification of work or excessive underpaid hours.

Dr. Doran highlighted the numerous instances where the University has been made aware of consistent and systematic underpayment of staff, including two gears by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the Casual Networks’ Flight time interim report, and recent coverage of library staff underpayment.

Emphasizing how much cheaper it is to employ staff as casuals than to employ them permanently, Dr Doran said that “for anyone [the University is] Systematically underpaying casual staff is pushing at the heart of their entire financial model.

“They know they are underpaying us. And if they paid us properly, they might have to employ us permanently – which is exactly what they don’t want to do.

Casual staff punished for talking

Dr. Doran told the Senate Committee that employees who spoke out against underpayment had their hours reduced or terminated.

While noting that “it is difficult to make a definite connection between speaking and not being rehired,” Dr. Doran recounted one particular incident where an occasional staff member, international student and occasional tutor at the University, was suddenly offered “no work at all”. after supporting the actions of the Casual Network. As a result, this member of staff – along with his colleagues – refused to speak during the investigation.

There are also reports of employees being blacklisted by universities, but the presence of blacklists remains unconfirmed.

To advance

The Casuals Network has recommended that the piece rate system be abolished and replaced with a time sheet system, in which staff enter hours actually worked and are paid for those hours. This is consistent with most contracts that engage staff in research.

Dr Doran also implored the University to consult affected staff in its audit. Last year, USyd hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit staff payments. However, he said it was a “non-transparent” process that involved no consultation or communication.

“It’s not the kind of thing that I think will provide a solution that’s anything but helpful to the University leadership.”

Other CUPW academics have also made recommendations such as increasing funding for student and teacher unions to conduct more independent research into wage theft, introducing criminal penalties for employers who indulge in wage theft and raising the JobKeeper rate to ensure staff can leave. abusive working conditions while putting food on the table.

Norman D. Briggs