The pandemic exposed the university sector’s ‘dirty little secret’; namely, its reliance on staff with insecure work contracts.
Around 70% of the sector’s staff are on such contracts, either part-time or casual, while the underpayment of staff is widespread.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recently investigated 14 universities over potential underpayment of staff since the start of the pandemic, and UNSW, Monash, Sydney and Melbourne universities are among the universities to have ‘owned up’ to millions of dollars in underpayments.
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Now The Guardian reveals that Australia’s universities have converted as few as 1% of casual staff to permanent in the wake of changes to the Fair Work Act in March..
The amendments require universities to offer casual staff a full-time or permanent part-time position if they have been employed for at least a year and had worked a regular pattern of hours for at least six months.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) notes that only 112 casual employees out of 11,300 at the University of Melbourne have been offered permanent roles since the reforms were implemented; this compares with just five casuals of 2300 staff at the University of Newcastle:
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) described the conversion rate as “abysmal across the sector”…
According to Alison Barnes, NTEU national president, well over 50% of undergraduate teaching is done by people with no employment security, nor sick or holiday pay.
“Universities have really for decades,” she said…
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the low conversion rate demonstrates “the Morrison government’s proposed solution for rampant casualisation was laughable from the start”.
“The new casual conversion laws allow bosses almost limitless discretion in denying long-term casual workers the right to convert to permanent roles,” she said.
Australia’s universities experienced massive funding growth over the decade to 2019:
It wasn’t just international student fees that boomed either. Public funding for universities also grew significantly between 2011 and 2019:
But instead of treating front-line academic staff properly, universities pissed the bounty away on paying exorbitant salaries to senior executives:
Bloating their administrative departments (while skimping on teaching staff):
And building lots of shiny new buildings:
Australia’s universities have shredded their social contract. They require fundamental reform.