“A national disgrace”: University wage theft set to exceed $380 million

“A national disgrace”: University wage theft set to exceed $380 million
Image: Wage theft is becoming endemic across Australian universities. wisely, Shutterstock.



New analysis by the National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) has revealed that wage theft is on track to exceed $380 million.

The data confirms that underpayments to university staff are now standing at more than $203 million in recent years, with a further $168 million set aside to repay workers for suspected wage theft incidents.

The union also estimates a further $10 million across three universities which have refused to reveal the full extent of their underpayments.

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said, “Wage theft at our public universities has spiralled beyond a crisis into a national disgrace,” Dr Barnes said.

“Vice-chancellors and senior executives must be held to account for the industrial-scale wage theft that has become the shameful hallmark of Australian universities,” she continued.

“This extraordinary figure is a damning indictment of the way university staff are being ripped off by their employers.”

NTEU analysed 62 separate incidents of wage theft across 30 public universities. The majority of these underpayments have occurred since 2014, some even beginning in 2009. 

Greens deputy leader and higher education spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi said it was time for the government to fix its “broken business model of the neoliberal university that only works off the back of casual and underpaid staff”.

“Wage theft in universities is a systemic scourge that is harming staff across the country,” she said.

“The fact that we have a university system where vice chancellor’s earn salaries exceeding $1 million a year while casual staff are robbed of hundreds of millions of dollars is obscene.”

7-figure salaries of vice chancellors revealed

The revelation comes as the significant wage gap between vice-chancellors and university staff, even senior professors.

A recent report shows that five out of Victoria’s eight universities paid their vice-chancellors more than $1 million last year, including half of the universities in Sydney. 

University of Sydney’s vice chancellor Mark Scott took home more than $1.17 million in 2023.

2023 saw most universities give their vice-chancellor a pay rise in 2023m even those who recorded profit deficits.

NTEU’s Joo-Cheong Tham, a Melbourne University law professor and integrity expert, analysed the university wages from 2023. His analysis revealed that the highest vice-chancellor salaries in Victoria were six times more than senior professors and 20 to 30 times more than junior staff wages. 

This latest report has fuelled social unrest, where vice-chancellors are “seemingly treated as a species apart from their staff,” according to Tham. 

Oxford professor and previous Melbourne University professor of higher education, Simon Marginson expressed that vice chancellors’ pay should relatively resemble their coworkers’ pay, while acknowledging that “running a university was a difficult job.”

Some are in defence of this higher wage. Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins, Melbourne University higher education researcher says, “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. To attract world-class leadership I think the million dollar plus salary is not unreasonable in this day and age.” 


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