MEDIA RELEASE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FAIR WORK ACT
CASUALISED, UNEMPLOYED AND PRECARIOUS UNIVERSITY WORKERS
8 FEBRUARY 2021 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FOR FURTHER COMMENT: CUPUW@cupuwfox
A collective of casual university workers has made a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, urging them to reject the proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA) in their entirety.
The Submission, prepared by casually employed academic and professional staff working across eleven Australian universities, insists that proposed changes to the FWA in the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 (The Bill), if passed, will ‘tilt the board more distinctively in favour of employers’ and that proposed changes to the ‘better off overall test’ (BOOT) will ‘further undermine basic employment conditions’.
‘The Bill seeks to further shift market risks onto workers and codifies the abuse of casual employment arrangements by employers,’ says Dr Giles Fielke, a sessional lecturer in the Arts Faculty at the University Melbourne, where hundreds of current and former academics were recently back-paid wages for up to six years of underpayments for marking work. ‘For too long, workers have had little say over their conditions of employment, and these amendments exacerbate that problem.’
Fielke is a member of CUPUW (Casualised, Unemployed and Precarious University Workers) and one of the co-authors of the Submission. He is also a recipient of a recent payout of back-pay following the successful wage theft campaign by casual workers at the University of Melbourne.
‘Casualisation and wage theft are embedded in the university sector,’ comments Fielke. ‘In 2020, at the University of Melbourne alone, over $6 million was back-paid for underpayment of casual contracts – with more to come this year.’ But CUPUW says that the provisions of the proposed amendment do nothing to rectify the issue.
The proposed statutory definition of casual employee, coupled with provisions aimed at ensuring that casual loading ‘sets off’ a lack of entitlements, reduces the liabilities of employers who have relied on (mischaracterised) casual workers, overturning important federal court decisions. This gives businesses a green light to offer more insecure, ‘flexible’, employment—a disastrous outcome for workers in Australia.
‘We are concerned that this bill is inadequate in its proposed attempts to criminalise underpayment’, says Dr Liam Kane, a sessional academic. ‘Last year Victoria made history by becoming the first and only State to pass law criminalising wage theft. The Bill would override this law (and other State and Territory laws), setting a higher bar for convictions, reducing government power to disincentivise wage theft by employers.’
The casualisation of the Australian higher education workforce is partially due to successive Commonwealth Governments steadily withdrawing funding from the sector. Despite the significant disruptions caused by COVID and a lack of federal support, members of the G08, like Monash University, have still managed to post large operating surpluses in 2020.
Casual employees are systematically disempowered in their workplaces. While The Bill proposes to broaden who can be designated as ‘casual’, it also seeks to narrow the casual cohort that votes on enterprise bargaining agreements by only permitting casuals who worked during the ‘access period’ (a seven-day period) to vote.
This further erosion of workplace conditions must be wholeheartedly rejected and exposed for what it really is: an attack on workers’ rights and on democracy in the workplace.
Click here for the full CUPUW submission to the Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment – Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 [Provisions]