Uni fined for threatening academics over time sheets

The University of Melbourne will cough up almost $75,000 in fines after it threatened to punish two casual academic staff if they claimed for work outside their contracted hours.

The Fair Work Ombudsman took the university to the Federal Court over the claims, after a supervisor sat the two academics down in August 2020 and told them: "If you claim outside your contracted hours don't expect work next year". 

In early 2021, one of the academics tried to claim five hours more than her contracted hours.

The same day, the supervisor told her and other tutors to resubmit their time sheets, saying, "your letter of offer which each of you accepted outlines what you are paid for per contract".

The academic resubmitted her time sheet disregarding the extra hours she worked but the supervisor told a professor the casual staffer was on a "crusade behind the scenes".

The supervisor claimed the university employed the academic out of desperation and said it would not hire her again.

They later told another employee the academic had become a "self-entitled Y-genner".

Judge Craig Dowling found the university contravened fair work legislation twice - first, when the supervisor threatened the academics' ongoing work prospects and second, when it refused to re-employ one of the academics after she tried to claim the extra hours she was owed.

The university ultimately admitted to the contraventions.

"(The academics) were entitled to be paid for the work performed by them as casual academics," Judge Dowling said in a decision published on Friday.

"They were entitled to complain or inquire about their ability to perform their work within the 'anticipated hours' contained in their contracts of employment. 

"Those complaints should have been free of consequence."

The academic who tried to claim extra hours was entitled to do so, the judge said.

He ordered the university pay two penalties of $37,295 for contravening the legislation.

A spokesman for the University of Melbourne said the institution had taken responsibility for its actions and reiterated its apology to the two workers.

"We have cooperated with the Fair Work Ombudsman, including by accepting liability early and agreeing on the amount of the penalty to put before the court for this matter," he said in a statement.

It has given the academic who tried to claim her extra hours $10,000 in compensation and the other casual worker $4000.

The university has since made changes to how casual staff are managed, including introducing 13 casual compliance manager roles and setting up "HR assist" phone lines for staff to raise pay and other issues.

The judge gave the university 28 days to pay the fines.

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