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Ben Eltham

Ben Eltham
@beneltham

Nov 24
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With the industrial debate hotting up in Canberra, I thought some of you might be interested in what's going on with a key wage theft case in higher education. A thread.

As many would be aware, wage theft is endemic in Australian universities. A number of Australian universities have admitted to widespread, systematic underpayment of staff, especially casual teachers and academics. afr.com/work-and-caree….
My own university, Monash University, is no exception. Monash admitted to $8.6m in wage theft from casual academics in September 2021. That figure has since grown as Monash has paid back further underpayments afr.com/work-and-caree…
Wage theft at Monash University is rampant. The NTEU has gathered detailed fresh evidence this year, from dozens of casual teachers that they weren't paid for thousands of hours of student consultations.
Even though the NTEU presented Monash with all the details of this fresh round of underpayments, Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner refused to talk. So the NTEU took Monash to the Federal Court honisoit.com/2022/08/monash…
And here's where it gets interesting. Rather than sit down with staff who have been underpaid, Monash Uni has responded by counter-suing its own employees in the Fair Work Commission nationaltribune.com.au/monash-univers…
Monash has applied to the Fair Work Commission to *retrospectively rewrite* its Enterprise Agreement in such a way as to kill off the latest underpayment claims. Effectively, Monash is asking the FWC to go back to 2020 and vary the Agreement ... to make the wage theft legal
You can see why this is pretty concerning for staff at Monash Uni. Basically, Monash's reponse to detailed, corroborated wage theft allegations has not been to defend them ... but instead to ask the Fair Work Commission to change the rules to make the wage theft okay
And here's the thing: it's working. Last week, the Federal Court handed down a judgment pausing the NTEU's wage theft claim, and sending the case down to the FWC, where Monash will attempt to get its section 217 application heard. judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judg…
This case has the potential to be a very serious precedent in Australian industrial law. If employers can respond to wage theft claims by rewriting their enterprise agreements after the fact, this could hand bosses a weapon to kill off underpayment claims across the whole economy
Monash University is one of Australia's largest universities. It is a public institution with a mission to educate and research. Monash has a budget of $3 billion and made a $416m operating surplus last year. It can afford to redress underpayment claims. It just doesn't want to.
This is a calculated action. Monash's Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner is an academic specialising in industrial relations. She has adopted a ruthless legal strategy to try and kill off wage theft claims ... potentially across the entire Australian economy monash.edu/about/structur…
Precedents like this can have a massive impact on wages. When the FWC allowed the rail company Aurizon to unilaterally terminate an enterprise agreement in 2015, it set a precedent. Thousands of enterprise agreements wre killed off by employers afterwards futurework.org.au/on_the_brink_t…
Would love to know your thoughts on this @Fabian Marrone
Ben Eltham

Ben Eltham

@beneltham
Writer, journalist, researcher, unionist. Banner image: Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, 'Tapestry of Disaster, Immolation' (2012).
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