Casual arts faculty tutors who have been underpaid by millions since 2014 have begun receiving their money after the resolution of a dispute between the university and the National Tertiary Education Union over the rate of repayment.
Sarah Roberts, the union’s Victorian assistant secretary, said she was happy the fight to get the 613 tutors paid was over.
“We’re very confident it’s all been settled,” she said.
“We put in their claims for payment many months ago and that they’ve just been sitting there adds insult to injury when these workers have been waiting for years already.”
Ms Roberts said the bill could run to more than $6 million.
“One of our members estimates he is owed $90,000,” she said. “It’s a lot of money they’re going to pay.”
The university had agreed to back pay workers after settling a wider wage dispute with the union at the end of last year, but the arts faculty payouts stalled.
The university had initially proposed using its own formula to calculate payouts but has since agreed to pay each individual claim in full. The union had begun Fair Work Commission proceedings before reaching the settlement.
The delay in payouts had incensed casuals leading to a socially-distanced protest outside Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s residence on the university’s Parkville campus earlier this month.
Hundreds of workers in the engineering and maths and statistics faculties have already been paid while the fine arts faculty is the next in line.
A University of Melbourne spokesperson said the university was committed to ensuring people were paid.
“The university has made contact with current and past academic casual employees who may have a claim for back pay resulting from resolution of a dispute with the NTEU late last year about academic casual time and attendance,” the spokesperson said.
“Whilst staff in two faculties have received back pay as part of the dispute settlement, over the last two months the university and union have been engaged in resolving differing views about the proper method for assessing back pay claims in one of its faculties.
“The university is pleased to have settled the dispute, including how claims will be verified, and remains on track to ensure the casuals receive their back pay owed before Christmas.”
Ms Roberts said the win was a significant step in ensuring appropriate payments across higher education.
“It will certainly help and the moral force of the argument is really getting traction,” she said.
La Trobe University has just announced it will begin the process of reviewing its payment practices and encouraged any casual worker who suspects they may have been underpaid to lodge a backpay claim.
NTEU Casuals Network co-convener Geraldine Fela said wage theft had been rife at the University of Melbourne for a long time, including management classifying tutorials as “practice classes” to not pay the full rate.
“It has a chronic problem of casualisation and precarious work,” she said.
“That workforce has been terribly exploited and the uni runs their business model off the back of that free labour.”
Ms Fela said the casual staff were “completely elated” to have the matter resolved.
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Anna is an education reporter at The Age.