University of Melbourne agrees to reimburse underpaid staff

17 December 2020

After two years of unionised campaigning, the University of Melbourne has agreed to reimburse underpaid staff before Christmas.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has claimed responsibility for this win, estimating that the University will need $6 million to repay staff. However, with more than 2000 staff members affected, the union has also stated that up to $15 million could be paid if each worker comes forward.

The University had previously agreed to repay underpaid workers after a dispute with the NTEU over the rate of repayment at the end of last year. However, payouts to casual Arts faculty tutors stalled with the University proposing to use its own formula to calculate back pay.

The University has since then agreed to pay each claim in full, with a University of Melbourne spokesperson stating that “the University and union have been engaged in resolving differing views about the property method for assessing back pay claims.

Moreover, the University “is pleased to have settled the dispute … and [remains] on track to ensure the casuals receive their back pay owed before Christmas”.

This pivot in the University follows a staff and student-led protest outside Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s home on November 27.

Maskell’s home, Cumnock House, is a $7.1 million mansion owned by the University in Parkville. It was NTEU’s intention to highlight the hypocrisy of the University’s affluent leaders and its underpayment of staff.

“[The University’s] brand is its Achilles heel and its reputation was in danger,” said NTEU member Nathan Gardener. “It was showering its executives in riches and leaving us in dirt.”

“By showing up in person and in numbers out in front of the Vice Chancellor’s house it was revealing the University’s conceitedness in itself and its contempt for us,” they said.  

A top HR official from the University had labelled the protest as “coercion” of the VC however, no statement has been made about whether the protest swayed the University in its decision.

NTEU Victorian Assistant Secretary Sarah Roberts said she was happy the fight over wage theft was over, believing the win to be a significant step to ensuring proper payment across tertiary education.

“We’re very confident it’s all been settled,” she said.

“It will certainly help and the moral force of the argument is really getting traction.”

The NTEU encourages any tutor who worked unpaid hours, from marking assignments or attending lectures or student consultations, from 2013-19 to contact the union and make a claim.


[Image credit: University of Melbourne]

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