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Casuals disappointed with Melbourne Uni wage theft apology

“Unless Professor Maskell’s apology leads to a significant increase in conversion of this staff to permanent and stable work, this apology rings hollow.”

Ms Herrera said a number of the union’s wage theft investigations at the university were ongoing.

Casual research assistant and union delegate Geraldine Fela said staff were dissatisfied with the apology.

“It’s very disappointing. The apology doesn’t mention insecure work which is the fundamental issue,” she said.

“It’s still cheaper for them to employ casuals and that’s why they continue to do it.”

A recent undertaking by the university to get casuals into more secure work has resulted in about 120 workers being converted to fixed-term contracts or permanent positions. The union estimates 55 per cent of the university’s teaching staff are casuals.

Wage theft has become a prominent issue at universities, with the union currently pursuing RMIT University for serial underpayment of academic staff. A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed it was currently investigating RMIT.

Last year LaTrobe University announced an audit of its pay practices and encouraged any worker who suspected they had been underpaid to lodge a claim.

The higher education sector has also been in financial crisis and shedding jobs since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Co-convenor of the university’s Casuals Network Nick Robinson said during the pandemic more than ever, casuals deserved more certainty from their employer.

“Casuals already live with precarity on a day-to-day basis and the pandemic has really accelerated it for a lot of reasons,” he said.

“Nobody knows what the uni is going to be like next year, nobody knows if they’re going to get work again, we’re looking down the barrel of a potential pandemic-related recession; all of these factors put casuals in a very precarious position.”

With Adam Carey

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