Swinburne University branded ‘despicable’ over debt collection threat

The National Union of Higher Education has criticized management at Swinburne University of Technology for threatening vulnerable staff with debt collectors after their own payroll error resulted in overpayments.

About 550 casual and part-time employees, with the least capacity for repayment, received between $300 and $900 following a payroll error in November 2021.

As the majority are casual employees with no regular income, many have applied for reimbursement plans which have been met with an inflexible and aggressive response from Swinburne University management.

Swinburne University has insisted on repayment plans that many cannot afford and has since sent emails threatening to use debt collectors to collect payments.

NTEU representatives have met with University management about the intimidation of its employees, asking them to withdraw their threats and agree to employee reimbursement plans.

NTEU Swinburne Branch President Julie Kimber said: “The bullying of casual and part-time staff is the latest insult in the wider transformation of the university. Treating their most vulnerable employees like this is infuriating.

“Like many large corporations, the university has little respect for those who work so hard to support it. We have members who have been underpaid by the university.

“When this happens, the university drags its feet and takes months to investigate and rectify the issues.

“We tried to shed light on a problem of widespread underpayment at the university. Many casual workers will be owed money. This is shameful behavior.

“For your employer to threaten you with a debt collector and imply that your credit rating will be affected for a mistake they made is despicable, intimidating and deeply distressing.

“The payroll is done by a third party vendor and it’s a complete disaster. We’ve had members who haven’t been paid for months at a time.

“One of our members, a single mother of two, was struggling to pay her rent, and with Christmas and its associated costs approaching, it was incredibly stressful.

“We finally managed to solve this problem, but it is not enough. Why should the most vulnerable employees bear the cost of an employer’s failures? It’s gotten to a point where you can’t trust your salary anymore. The system is too complicated and completely broken. It’s a mess. Yet senior management is doing nothing about it.

A supervisor from Swinburne University said: “I find it outrageous that the first line of action is the debt collectors.

“This has the potential to cause great harm to our sessional staff, due to poor credit ratings and subsequent rejection of personal and home loans, as well as causing enormous distrust of the organization as the University allegedly could just contact them, apologize for the overpayment, and set up a longer term payment plan that wouldn’t cause harm.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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