University refuses to continue employing academic after she exercised her rights

6 December 2015
The University of Melbourne is facing legal action over claims it refused to continue employing a respected academic after she lodged a dispute in the Fair Work Commission.

For the past nine years the gender studies lecturer was employed on fixed-term and casual contracts at the university’s School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS).

Amid concerns about the instability of her employment, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) lodged a dispute in the Fair Work Commission on the lecturer’s behalf.

An email was subsequently sent by a member of the university’s management stating that she should not be given any more work because “she and the NTEU are taking the university to Fair Work.”

Maurice Blackburn Associate Kelly Thomas said that in doing so, the university had breached the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). It had also shown a disregard for the academic’s dedication and loyal service.

“The email clearly shows that the university decided not to hire the NTEU’s member because she raised a dispute. This is unlawful under the Fair Work Act,” Ms Thomas said. 

“Employees have workplace rights to raise issues with their employer, including accessing the Fair Work Commission. The Fair Work Act was designed to prevent this exact type of arbitrary behaviour, to prevent employees’ fear of retribution.”

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.

NTEU National President Jeannie Rea said having such high numbers contending with insecure employment was unacceptable, and that the case highlighted the precarious positions in which so many university staff were being placed.

“What is doubly alarming about this case is that the individual involved, who was employed on a series of insecure short-term contracts for almost 10 years, was allegedly disadvantaged for exercising their rights,” Ms Rea said.

“Fixed-term employment is often used by universities to keep employees scared, and the NTEU will unapologetically keep fighting for secure jobs for university staff.

“We must put an end to situations where university staff are forced to contend with having no job security as they are shuffled from short-term contract to short-term contract, in some cases for more than a decade.”

“Such lengthy periods of job insecurity have real implications for the individuals involved, and affect their ability for plan their finances and secure leases and home loans, while also placing enormous pressure on families.

“There is no excuse for treating people this way, and we will never give up the fight to improve job security for university staff.”

The matter is listed to be heard in the Federal Court on 5 February 2016.

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