Schools Agencies undercut CRT wages

The Department of Education has introduced a new system for procuring the services of Casual Relief Teacher (CRT) labour hire agencies. From Term 2, only labour hire agencies on a new CRT panel will be able to provide services to schools. Service providers like ClassCover and CanUWork are technology solutions, so not part of the CRT panel, but may still provide app-based solutions for schools, as long as the responsibility for the employment of CRTs remains with schools.  

The department instituted this arrangement primarily to support schools in meeting their governance and financial compliance obligations, particularly the requirement to use a tender process for expenditure above a certain threshold. The creation of the CRT Panel means schools are no longer obligated to tender for labour hire services.

The panel process is also intended to help schools secure sufficient CRTs to cover vacancies. To be on the panel, labour hire agencies need to meet certain criteria – for example, ensure their CRTs have VIT registration – and commit to providing CRT services to schools in particular regions around the state. Each regional and rural area will now be covered by an agency, though there is no requirement for schools in each area to use that agency. Most schools have their own bank of CRTs and may continue to use those lists.  

While some agencies claim to pay the union-negotiated Ministerial Order rate, evidence suggests not one labour hire agency actually does.

In fact, the AEU strongly encourages schools to source CRTs directly as that is the only way those CRTs receive the union-negotiated daily rate of $383.13, set out in the Ministerial Order. No labour hire agency pays CRTs the same rate of pay that they receive when employed directly by the school. Because agencies can pay rates set out in the Award, they can pay CRTs as little as $263.30 CRT for a full day’s work – more than $100 less for the same work.

A school’s CRT budget is often an expensive line item. However, it’s important to know that lowest-cost agencies operate by cutting teachers’ wages. Agencies are tight-lipped about their profit margins, but their administration costs are likely about 20% of the rate charged to schools.

Award minimum rates are meant to provide a safety net. Rates for casuals vary according to level of qualification, years of service and length of engagement. The rates paid by agencies are linked to the Award, and some also pay CRTs a premium for rural and regional work, or for work in special schools. But none of these rates equal the Ministerial Order rate. While some agencies claim to pay this rate – and some get close – evidence suggests not one labour hire agency actually does.

A 2016 Victorian government inquiry into labour hire organisations strongly recommended legislation to remove the disparity in pay between agency and school council-employed CRTs. Despite this, and the government’s decision to use a procurement process (hence, the CRT panel), no change was made to the labour hire rates, leaving thousands of CRTs with sub-par rates of pay, and no pathway for claiming the rates in the Ministerial Order.

Worse, to date, three agencies (Staffing Organisation Services, Resource Education Personnel and Free Agency Education Recruitment) have cut or plan to cut CRT wages as a result of the government’s failure to use this process to lift wages, as recommended.

All agencies operating in Victoria’s government schools were invited to provide their rates of pay for CRTs for this article. Victoria is currently facing a CRT shortage and agencies are recruiting now – yet, only one agency (Tradewind) has provided this information to the AEU.

The AEU does not endorse any particular agency, but surely an appropriate rate of pay is one way to aid recruitment and to recognise and reward the expert work of our CRTs. Sadly, on this front, most agencies currently fail miserably.

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