Regulator to HE: obey the law on staff pay

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating14 universities

“I make no apology that we expect Australian universities to invest in governance frameworks and practises that will ensure compliance with workplace laws,” Ombudsman Sandra Parker told a Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency on-line seminar, Friday.

It follows universities variously admitting and investigating under-paying staff by breaching wages rates set in enterprise agreements.

Last month Uni Melbourne acknowledged 1000 casual staff had been owed $9.5m, with VC Duncan Maskell stating there had been, “a systemic failure of respect from this institution for those valued, indeed vital employees,” (CMM September 10).

Speaking to TEQSA’s audience, Ms Parker acknowledged cooperation from HE providers, but warned, “we will take a firm approach with those who do not cooperate with us. We are investigating in technology and data analytics to assess compliance on a large scale. We can and will undertake independent validation or recalculations.”

TEQSA Chief Commissioner Peter Coaldrake added that underpayment of staff could constitute a breach of the threshold standards, which providers must meet for registration.

Ms Parker set out key issues her office has raised with university leaderships, including;

* “likely” breaches of enterprise agreements, “arising from poor governance and management oversight practises”

* human resources and pay issues “mainly dealt with by academic managers of faculties and schools with little input from the central administrative area”

* “custom and practise of applying piece rate style performance benchmarks” governed by local operating rules which can breach enterprise agreements, notably in payment for marking, lecture attendance and student consultation

* misclassification, reclassification –of staff, leading to lower pay.

“The issue has been around long enough now that we are quite concerned at the unevenness that has been demonstrated across the sector by institutions and by organisations,” Professor Coaldrake added.