ANUSA and UnionsACT have launched a survey with the aim of gathering information on wages, staff treatment and working conditions for students who work in businesses on the ANU campus. A pre-pandemic report produced by Unions ACT in 2020 revealed that wage theft was an extremely prevalent issue facing students, with 77% of survey respondents reporting that they had experienced wage theft while working for businesses operating on the ANU campus. 

ANUSA Treasurer Jaya Ryan declared that if the survey revealed that wage theft was still widespread on campus, ANUSA would expect ANU to take the strongest action possible against the offending businesses to provide workers on campus with a safe and equitable work environment. ANUSA would expect the ANU to develop steps to address wage theft in consultation with UnionsACT, but will be dependent on the findings of the survey. 

Ryan clarified that at the very least ANUSA would expect the ANU to take substantive steps to end wage theft on campus further than the ones they had committed to after the last UnionsACT report was published. UnionsACT last surveyed workers on campus about their experiences at work in 2019/2020 and found rampant wage theft on campus. 

Ryan suggested that “with the stresses created by the pandemic and the even more precarious situation it has placed casual workers in, I imagine the problem of wage theft has only gotten worse since that last report.” This sentiment was echoed by a UnionsACT spokesperson, who expressed that “now that things are opening back up, we’re interested in finding out if the same problems still exist.”

ANUSA’s primary response to endemic wage theft would involve actions like protests and informational campaigns, but Ryan did not rule out that ANUSA would undertake other action alongside organising students, and would consult with UnionsACT to see if any legal action would be possible or how much it would cost.

Ryan stated that due to the transient nature and the instability of employment inherent to casual work caused by the pandemic, collecting comprehensive and accurate statistics around wage theft is quite difficult. ANUSA does not have a regular mechanism for reporting wage theft other than surveys or ANUSA-led campaigns.

The 2020 report is the most up to date data available about wage theft at the ANU campus. Students have also regularly reported experiences of wage theft when using the ANUSA legal service. However, Ryan clarified that “the purpose of this service is to provide legal advice to help them take action against their employer, not to systematically track instances of wage theft.”

The Treasurer asserted that “ANUSA is committed to holding businesses accountable for treating their workers correctly, and this survey is a good first step in creating that accountability.”

The UnionsACT spokesperson underscored that workers in insecure employment are often vulnerable to exploitation because they often feel like “they can’t stand up for themselves without risking their jobs.” 

UnionsACT added that “today, approximately 1 in 4 workers in Australia are in secure work” and encouraged casually and insecurely employed workers to join their unions to “create a more secure future for themselves and others” or “face a future filled with exploitation and uncertainty. 

If you’re a student currently experiencing wage theft, the ANUSA legal service offers free and confidential legal advice which can help you solve your problem, find out more here. The Young Workers Centre also offers free and confidential advice about your rights at work, and can be found here.