Culture

Uni Tutors Just Won Back Millions In Stolen Wages By Striking Outside A Vice Chancellor’s Home

The uni has agreed to pay an estimated $15 million in wages, more than double what was first expected. And it's all thanks to direct action.

The University of Melbourne has capitulated and agreed to pay out millions in unpaid work claimed by staff in a major win for tutors.

The estimated amount to be paid is $15 million if each owed staff member comes forward. The union “conservatively estimates” that more than 2000 workers are affected.

The university had previously refused to pay out the total sum. The National Tertiary Education Union is claiming responsibility for the win, which was secured on November 27.

“They were refusing to pay back our wages as we’d claimed and were trying to put forward a lesser amount, which we refused because we wanted to be paid what we were owed,” said union member Nathan Gardener.

The union had previously thought the university would need to pay back $6 million to repay all the staff that had already lodged a claim, but this larger figure includes affected staff who haven’t yet lodged, but are eligible to.

The protest. Photo: NTEU

The university did not clarify how much it expected to be back-paid when asked by Junkee.

Mr Gardener said the university was previously trying to pay “as much as it felt like”, and changed its tune once the NETU organised a protest across the road from the Vice Chancellor’s home in Parkville.

“By showing up in person and in numbers out the front of the Vice Chancellor’s house it was revealing the university’s conceitedness in itself and its contempt for us,” Mr Gardner said. “It was showering its executives in riches and leaving us in the dirt.”

The university did not answer a direct question about whether or not the protest changed its mind.

He said the home is a multi-million dollar mansion, and isn’t privately owned by the vice chancellor himself but is university property.

The NTEU’s intention was to make a contrast between the poverty some of its members were forced to live in because of wage theft, and the luxury given to leadership.

Digitally altered image provided by NTEU.

The university capitulated the morning of the day the protest was due to go ahead.

“[The university’s] brand is its Achilles heel and its reputation was in danger,” Gardener said. “It was more interested in saving its name and looking good.”

Any tutor who worked unpaid hours to mark or attend lectures or student consultations from 2013-19 are encouraged to approach the NTEU to make a claim.

“Anyone can come forward at any time to make claims for payments that are outstanding,” Gardner said. “It says right there in watertight fashion [in our EBA] that an hour’s work means an hour’s work and casuals get paid for every hour’s work.”

A spokesperson for the university did not directly answer either of Junkee’s questions, but did say the institution would back pay those owed.

“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,” the spokesman said.