Sydney university staff found to be working nearly a day a week unpaid
University staff are taking on hundreds of hours of unpaid work to keep courses going, according to a new report conducted among casuals at the University of Sydney.
Staff are being underpaid by thousands of dollars as they work beyond their contracted hours, in what the National Tertiary Education Union says is common practice across the university sector.
The report, conducted by the Usyd Casuals Network and the National Tertiary Education Union, audited 19 casual academics from seven schools and four faculties across the first six weeks of semester two.
It found that 84% of staff performed unpaid work in these six weeks.
According to their employment contracts, those surveyed were supposed to work 1,230 hours in total, but worked 1,983, resulting in an additional 753 hours of unpaid work.
That included hours of unpaid administration work that has been made worse by cuts to staff and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report’s authors said this was “equivalent to each person working close to one day (6.6 hours) unpaid every week”.
If the surveyed staff had been paid for their additional hours, it would add to $47,897, or an average of $2,521 a person, over the six weeks. The highest amount for one person was $11,469.Advertisementhttps://644a96cbdc7c620aaec3b2200cd55cc9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Co-author Georgia Carr, a casual lecturer at the University of Sydney, said that was “rife” across universities around the country and not unique to her employer.
The report found that administrative work – such as scheduling classes, organising socially-distanced rooms, and communicating with students – was responsible for much of the unpaid labour.
On average, participants in the survey were paid for 48 minutes a week for administrative tasks, but worked for nearly five hours a week.
One participant was not paid for more than two-thirds (69%) of their work, which the authors said was “equivalent to someone in a 9-to-5 job not being paid for work performed after 11:30am”.
Women, on average, worked two and a half times the time of unpaid work ($3,837 to $1,541).
In one case, administrative work included “creating the unit of study outline, populating the Canvas (eLearning) site, designing assessments, responding to student queries and attending student consultations” for a class of 70 students.
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The academic was paid 13 hours across the whole semester for this work, but “the 13 hours in her contract were exceeded before semester even began”.
The report also noted that underpayments were exacerbated due to a “hybrid” teaching model of combined online and in-person classes due to the pandemic.
“While it is important to offer this type of teaching, it carries an enormous administrative burden,” the report said.
“In [this] case, it meant negotiating rooms on campus big enough for 28 students to socially distance and moving online students between tutorials to accommodate time-zone differences … This work far exceeded the hours she was paid for.”
Carr said the many extra hours of administrative work were simply what most teachers and tutors had to do to keep the course running.
“It is work that has to be done,” she said. “It is not optional, it is not people who go above and beyond, or standout teachers, is is just common practice that is required.
“Forty-eight minutes is on average what people were given in a contract. Just nowhere near enough time is being given.”
Carr said that increasing casualisation among academics also drove them to do unpaid work, for fear of not being renewed for the next semester.
“These are people who are working to get re-hired, they are really needing to demonstrate that they are doing everything and more and they are worried about not having work in their future.”
And Carr added that this level of workload “predates the pandemic”.
“It is rife, it is not unique to Sydney University or unique to this year. Ours is not a standalone piece of research, there is all this other research that finds this same thing.
“They can’t claim ignorance any more – wage theft is really standard practice at Australian universities in general … it is an open secret.”
The president of the Sydney University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, Kurt Iveson, said: “Toxic management practices have allowed this to happen.”
A spokeswoman for the university said it would “take time” to consider the report.
“Beyond this report, we are not currently aware of any other data or evidence to suggest our academic staff are frequently working hours beyond what they are contracted to do,” she said.
“All academic workload allocations are governed by the enterprise agreement, and local areas develop their own workload allocation models within the EA framework. These models are regularly reviewed by a committee composed of representatives of both the staff unions and representatives nominated by the University.
“If any staff have concerns about their workload allocation, we encourage them to speak to their direct supervisor in the first instance.”