Sessional TAFE teachers at Victoria University have jointly received around $250,000 in backpay after the AEU stepped in to resolve a dispute over leave loading for the Labour Day public holiday.
A concerned VU member contacted the union after sessional staff who had worked on this year’s Labour Day were told they would not be paid public holiday loading for these shifts. This did not align with the clause set out in the workplace agreement negotiated by the AEU, which calls for 250% of the ordinary hourly rate for all hours worked.
“Labour Day, Monday 8 March, is a gazetted public holiday in Victoria,” says AEU industrial officer Hannah Pelka-Caven. “But we were approached by sessional teachers who’d been employed at VU on that day, who let us know that they were only paid their ordinary rate of pay.”
She says the AEU “worked pragmatically” with VU management to resolve the matter.
“I think it’s a fantastic outcome for our members, because you should be appropriately paid when you’re working on a public holiday. It’s something that everyone is entitled to – the day off – and if you do have to work, you should be paid appropriately for that time given up.”
It’s really good to know that the union can push for these things and succeed.”
One sessional member (who prefers to remain anonymous) says he was impressed by the union’s advocacy work on this issue, securing a positive win that has resulted in considerable backpay – a bonus he was not expecting.
“It was my understanding, as far as I was aware, that it was considered a normal workday, with no public holiday loading or anything like that.”
Like so many sessional staff members, he was grateful for the work, and didn’t think to check that he was being paid correctly.
“Being a casual, if I don’t work shifts, I don’t get paid, so even if it was the normal pay rate, it meant I was getting something as opposed to just getting nothing.”
That said, he was somewhat taken aback by the lack of proper remuneration for turning up to work on a public holiday.
“I’ve worked casual jobs in the past where you get more for Sundays and things like that, so it did seem a little bit unfair.”
“That backpay alone has paid my union fees for years in just one win.”
With the problem of wage theft and exploitation all too common for casual staff in almost every industry, he says it was “reassuring” to discover that the union was there to investigate the situation and advocate for the rights of its members.
“It feels like something that should really be celebrated,” he says. “It’s really good to know that the union can push for these things and succeed. And that VU came to the table to do the right thing and pay people what they ought to be paid. It’s good to know that a precedent has been set.”
The win has only cemented his belief that everyone should become a union member, including sessional teachers. This case is a great example of the value of union membership far outweighing the cost, he says.
“Union membership is only a few dollars here and there. For me, I must have worked somewhere between five and eight hours that Labour Day. So, to get the additional money, which went from 100% pay on that day up to 250% – that backpay alone has paid my union fees for years in just one win, on top of the other benefits. So, joining the union really is the best investment you can make.”
Hannah agrees. “It shows that when people approach their union, they get really good support,” she says. “Being grateful for work shouldn’t mean putting up with underpayment. This win demonstrates that there is strength in numbers, and in allowing the union to advocate on your behalf. It’s a very rewarding outcome.”