'Staggering': Higher education workers underpaid $83.4 million

'The federal government now has 83 million reasons to stamp out wage theft'

'Staggering': Higher education workers underpaid $83.4 million

Higher education workers are owed by a collective $83.4 million, according to a new report, further setting off calls to criminalise wage theft across Australia.

The amount is uncovered by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) after analysing 34 cases across 22 institutions in landmark Wage Theft Report.

"A further three ongoing cases will almost certainly break the $90 million threshold - a shameful indictment that demands major response from governments universities," the report said.

Victoria came out as the top state with the highest amount of underpaid higher education staff with $50,231,442, according to the report.

The state is followed by New South Wales ($24,981,703) and then Queensland ($2,020,245).

"The sheer scale of wage theft in higher education is staggering. It's absolutely shameful that so many Australian university staff have had wages stolen," said NTEU national president Alison Barnes in a statement.

By institution, the University of Melbourne registered the highest amount of money owed to staff with a collective $31.6 million.

This is followed by the University of Sydney ($12.75 million) and then by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology ($10 million).

"Some universities have admitted wrongdoing while others choose to pursue expensive litigation to fight against the staff that they owed wages," the report said.

Wage theft criminalisation

NTEU's findings has prompted stronger calls to criminalise wage theft across Australia.

"The Federal Government now has 83 million reasons to stamp out wage theft in higher education with emphatic action," Barnes said.

The Wage Theft Report said the federal government's next tranche of industrial relations legislation should include "strong criminal penalties for wage theft."

"Strong penalties including jail for the worst offending is needed to deter this shameful practice," the report said.

In Australia, Victoria and Queensland consider wage theft as a criminal offence. Just recently, Western Australia also established a new Supplier Wage Audit to combat wage theft.

Link to casualisation

Senator Mehreen Faruqi, commenting on NTEU's findings, said they were "shocking but not surprising."

According to senator, the link between wage theft and casualisation is "undeniable."

"Not everyone who is underpaid at our universities is a casual, but if you're a casual you are at much higher risk of having your wages stolen," Faruqi said in a statement

The senator further suggested an "overhaul of university governance" and a requirement for universities to set publicly available targets for increasing permanent employment.

"There should be clearer reporting requirements with respect to employment statistics and improved rights of entry for trade unions," Faruqi said.

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