Curtin University sued for short-changing staff on fixed term contracts

17 September 2015
Curtin University in WA is facing Federal Court action in Perth for its extraordinary over-use of consecutive fixed-term contracts with one long-term university employee on 24 consecutive fixed term contracts.

Employment law experts Maurice Blackburn, acting on behalf of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has served Curtin University with court documents alleging two staff have lost over $260,000 in redundancy and other entitlements because of the university’s unfair precarious employment practices. 

The two long-serving staff in the university’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology were put on a total of 41 fixed term contracts despite working continuously for periods ranging from 15-20 years. Research engineer Frank Thomas worked at Curtin between 1998 and 2013 when he was made redundant, and during that time was put on 17 consecutive fixed-term contracts. Amos Maggi, a research associate was employed on 24 consecutive fixed-term contracts between 1993 and 2013. When the researchers were made redundant in 2013 they missed out significant sums of money due to the nature of their employment.

Josh Bornstein, head of employment law at Maurice Blackburn said Curtin University had acted unlawfully by breaching its enterprise agreements, and had shown a callous disregard for the loyalty shown by the pair over decades.

“This case once again puts a spotlight on the extraordinary dimensions of precarious and insecure employment that have become commonplace throughout the economy. In this case a system designed to deal with the need for short-term staff has been seriously abused. In recent months, other types of exploitative and insecure work arrangements have been exposed in other industries using different structures including contracting, franchising and the supply chain labour.”

“We hear a lot about the need for labour market reform in this country. This case shows there is a compelling argument for employment laws to be rewritten to address the abuse of precarious and insecure work systems”.

According to an NTEU analysis, an estimated 63 % of university employees, or more than 120,000 staff were employed on an insecure basis in 2014.

Jeannie Rea, National President of the NTEU said:

“Over the past decade, only two out of every 10 new university staff have been employed on a permanent basis, or only three out of 10 on a full time equivalent basis, which is simply unacceptable.”

“Increasingly we are seeing hard-working university staff being forced to survive from short-term contract to short-term contract, in many cases over many years with no prospect of ongoing job security. There is no excuse for years and years of fixed-term contracts.”

“This dire situation has serious consequences for the individuals involved, affecting their ability to secure leases, loans and mortgages, and placing families under pressure.”

“People need and deserve certainty in their employment so they can plan the rest of their lives.”

“By failing to offer their staff the prospect of secure employment, Australian universities risk losing their best and brightest employees, and their reputations in the process, largely as a result of poor management,” said Ms Rea. 

Practice Areas: