$2.85m Swinburne shortfall in spotlight

Swinburne University has owned up to underpaying 1,699 casual employees $2.6 million between 2017 and 2023, with more than $200,000 also owed to Swinburne College casuals.

VC Professor Pascale Quester revealed the underpayment in a statement yesterday after the University self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman – the latest university to identify a long-term payroll systems failure. 

The wage theft case has eerie echoes of the University’s 2018 issues, when then VC Linda Kristjanson wrote to staff apologising for $3.66 million in underpaid superannuation and interest, which were revealed after an internal investigation. 

The chronology of the two issues suggest shortcomings with a system-wide approach to paying staff.

Professor Quester said the University had taken significant steps to ensure the same issues did not happen again, including, training, system and communication improvements.

The NTEU expressed anger and claimed that it has identified more than $170 million in underpayments across the Australian HE sector.

Across town at the University of Melbourne, there have also been payroll problems. The Federal Court has just fined the University close to $75,000 for the way it treated two casual staff who complained they were required to work more hours than their contracts specified. The Fair Work Ombudsman also has a case that the University underpaid Arts Faculty casuals before the Court. This follows a 2021 case where the University was found to have underpaid casual academics to the tune of nearly $10m.

Several other universities have also confirmed payroll issues. With the Government prevailing upon the States to beef up university governance just last week, this latest scandal will do nothing to strengthen university’s bargaining power.

Education Minister Jason Clare has regulator TEQSA working on requiring HE providers to “meet industrial and workplace obligations;” particularly, ”to faithfully implement enterprise agreements.” 

Mr Clare also wants independent oversight of what senior university staff are paid, “with consideration given to comparable scale and complexity public sector entities, and ensure remuneration policies and packages are publicly reported.” 



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