Being a casual staff member at a university can be hard

This page is maintained to share information, organise for better working conditions and support precariously employed academic and professional staff. 

We are working together to build a better future.  Will you join us?

MQ Casual Collective


Meetings for Semester 2, 2021 will start on Friday, August 27th, at 3pm. Meetings will be held regularly on the last Friday of the month at 3pm.

If you would like to join this meeting, please use the 'Contact Us' box below.


Job Protection: we want that all current casual employees are protected from job losses and redeployed where possible.  We also want our job losses to be acknowledged as ‘losses’ given that a significant proportion of us have been employed every semester over a number of years, making us casual in name only.

Access to associate positions/honorary status: obtaining this would help us retain connection to the university community and access library resources between employment contracts or in the event that we lose work due to the recent course cuts. 

Library access: if honorary status is not a possibility, we want access to library resources during the breaks between our contracts (such as over the summer) so that we are able to continue with our research and writing projects and benefit both ourselves and the university community.      

Inclusion of all casual staff: surveys and communications are often directed at casual professional and academic staff at universities as if university language centres and other centres of learning don't exist. Language centres can be over 90% staffed by casual employees at times, so it is important to address all parts of the university when discussion matters relevant to casual staff.

Paid sick leave: in the event that we fall ill, we want access to paid sick leave.  At present, we must sometimes choose between coming to work sick and managing to pay our bills, which is an inhumane and degrading position to be in.

Inclusion in decision making: at both faculty and discipline level, we want to be included in teaching-related decision making since we work at the coalface of curriculum delivery.  We also often convene our own courses year after year.

Compensation specifically for meeting with students/emails: although we have always spent unpaid time meeting with students and answering emails, the amount of time spent on these activities has exploded since the Covid-19 pandemic began.  We want our time to be valued since it is in many cases necessary for student success and wellbeing.

Advance notice of work: many of us are used to being offered work at very short notice.  This is a source of anxiety, and given the current atmosphere of uncertainty, we want to reduce this as much as possible and request that departments take care to offer work as early as is practical. 

Expressions of interest in work: to help ensure that the distribution of work is as fair as possible, we would like that disciplines and departments invite expressions of interest for available teaching opportunities.  

Compensation for training: we are periodically asked to undertake training and yet we are not always paid for it.  We want consistency in this regard and we would also appreciate support in undertaking professional development training of various kinds.

Inclusion in department life: many permanently employed staff are of the opinion that casual employment is a brief transition period between one’s PhD and permanent employment. Since the academic job market is no longer what it once was, this is no longer true and many of us work year after year in the same department.  We would like to be included in department meetings, department mailing lists and treated with dignity as colleagues.


Possibility of conversion to secure teaching positions: although we understand that the university sector is in a tight financial spot, we firmly believe that universities must invest in staff in order to thrive.  Since our working conditions are student learning conditions, we believe that converting the employment of long-term casuals to ongoing, secure teaching roles is the best way to achieve this.  

Shared access to research funding: despite many of us having brilliant research plans, we are sometimes excluded from being able to apply for university research funding.  We want to obtain rights to compete for this funding since our research outputs benefit the universities we work for as well as our own careers.

Superannuation rates that match those of permanent staff: offering casual staff equal superannuation would help provide some security in very uncertain times and also demonstrate that the work we perform is valued.

University-wide equality of pay/working conditions: some casual staff are paid more than others for performing the same or similar tasks. We would like to see consistency in this regard.

Below are some recent articles that discuss issues in Australian universities that are relevant to casual staff.

Australian universities ramping up ‘hybrid’ learning means double the work for same pay, staff say - by Naaman Zhou and Soofia Tariq, 20th Jun, 2021

“I’m a casual tutor and we get only a finite amount of time and payment to do lesson plans,” she said. “The expectation is that we do those in our own time and ahead of time.”

Nantsou said it required even more work to turn such a practical and in-person subject as performance into online classes.

“It definitely has required me to do double the lesson planning than what I would ordinarily because you just simply can’t translate what we do face-to-face to an online format,” she said. “It’s very different … because it involves video editing, splicing things together.

Casual Wage Theft in the Corporate University - by Elyse Fenton and Liam Kane, 18th Mar, 2021

'Unsurprisingly, these payment systems were defended as reasonable by the beleaguered vice chancellors appearing before the inquiry. Despite this, there is widespread acknowledgement among academics that piece rates radically undervalue the work required to provide quality education. Relics from our industrial past, these rates are unchanged from when they were created in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when lecturing did not require the creation of elaborate PowerPoint slides, interfacing with learning management systems, and responding to emails from students and managers. Classes were smaller. In the past two decades class sizes have blown out, with the teacher-to-student radio becoming seriously unbalanced. Piece rates do not reflect these realities.'

The Exploitation of Casual Workers in the University Sector - by Saksia Beudel, 8th Feb, 2021 

'Equally corrosive was the way casual and fixed-term staff were treated as irrelevant, invisible, worthless and disposable. There is a human as well as financial cost to the massive casualisation at universities Australia-wide. Alongside wage theft is profound erosion of workers’ wellbeing and sense of professional standing.'

More than 17,000 jobs lost at Australian universities during Covid pandemic - by Naaman Zhou, 3rd Feb, 2021

'At least 17,300 people lost their jobs in universities last year – including permanent staff as well as casuals who did not have their contracts renewed – according to the latest data from Universities Australia. It’s an increase on the 12,500 job losses reported by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in October.'

Wage theft and casual work are built into university business models - by Damien Cahill, 27 Oct, 2020

'There are several common forms of underpayment for casual workers.

The first is a semantic sleight of hand where managers classify teaching work in a way that attracts a lower rate of pay. For example, tutorials are regularly classified as “demonstrations”, meaning the casual is paid less for the same type of work.

Last year at Macquarie University the NTEU negotiated about A$50,000 in back payments for casual staff whose tutorials had been reclassified as “small group teaching activities” with a lower rate of pay. Similarly, at the University of Western Australia, tutorials have been classified as “information sessions” that attract a lower rate of pay.'

Reliance on casual staff at Australian universities over the years has not been accompanied by the creation of opportunities to pursue full-time employment. This has created a workforce that is substantially based on ongoing casual employment and insecure work has become a permanent state of affairs for many.

The purpose of this group is to share information, support each other and organise to obtain better conditions for casual and fixed term academic and professional staff.

We hold regular meetings, share resources and work closely with the NTEU to resolve issues as they emerge and build a fairer future for everyone.  Although many of us are NTEU members, and we strongly endorse joining the NTEU, this group is not an NTEU entity.

If you would like to join us, please use the contact box below or contact us via the blue buttons above.

Ways for permanent staff to support casual academic staff

Permanently employed course convenors and line managers are in a position to support and advocate for better working conditions for casuals. The MQ Casual Collective has developed ideas for improving the conditions for casual workers.

Establish fair marking schedules
Full-time staff are usually responsible for setting assessments and can control a fair marking workload for casual staff.  In many faculties, casual academic staff are allocated 1h or .5h per student for assessment over the semester. If the assessments for any given course are designed so that the work assigned to students can reasonably be marked within that time allocation, this prevents wage theft and promotes a healthy work environment for everyone.

Pay for meeting times and consultation
When you ask casual staff to discuss the subjects they are teaching be mindful of the time you are asking them to dedicate to this and pay them for this time. If you invite casual staff to any meetings, they should be paid for their time.

Offer the same course to casual staff more than once
Many casual staff find themselves teaching in new units each semester. This means they are in a perpetual cycle of having to read and incorporate new material rather than building their expertise in a few units. Offering consistent teaching reduces stress for casual staff and improves quality for students.

Be fair about how work is allocated
When you know what units will be available, ask casuals to express their interest via an Expression of Interest form. This opens up the work to more casual staff. Give as much notice as possible about work options.

Advocate for continuous access to library privileges
Like permanent staff, casual staff are often doing research and require access to the library. The periodic nature of casual work means that many lose access to library resources, which impacts upon their ability to write and publish.  

Respect casual staff expertise
In bygone days, casual staff were often PhD candidates operating in an apprenticeship model where they would work casually for a year or two before being able to apply for a permanent position. Casual staff have often worked for many years and are highly skilled professionals. We encourage you to consider casuals as part of the academic community, not as disposable labour hire.

Keep casual staff in the loop
Maintain a casual staff mailing list to advertise seminars and new developments.

Union membership
Encourage casual staff to join the NTEU as there are pervasive misconceptions that the union exists primarily to represent and advocate for permanent, ongoing staff.

MQ Casual Collective
Encourage casual staff to join our collective and Facebook group where we are actively campaigning for fairer conditions.

February, 2021

Higher education is in crisis and so are we. We are starting this year fearful for our futures and uncertain of what budget cuts and restructuring will mean for our livelihoods. In the midst of this stressful situation, it is natural to focus on the essentials for survival. Yet, this is also a good opportunity to remember that there is strength in numbers and that our best strategies are collective ones.

Now, more than ever, we need to identify and seize every opportunity to support each other. In order to do so effectively, though, we must all be aware of some pernicious threats to solidarity that emerge in stressful times such as these that we might not immediately recognise.

Solidarity is threatened when management presents casual staffing cuts as a solution to the budget crisis and more securely employed staff don’t speak out to remind others that casual staff are more than a budget line item.

Solidarity is threatened when legitimate concerns about the use of casual staff to fill the void left by redundancies turn into discussions framing precariously employed colleagues as scab labour who uncritically accept poorer pay and conditions.

Solidarity is threatened whenever we lose sight of the fact that we are all on the same side.

Mutual understanding can be hard between employees whose working conditions are fundamentally different. Among academic staff, for example, the rate of change within higher education has been so rapid that established scholars with ongoing positions may sometimes not fully understand the struggles and frustrations of long-term casual staff. The career expectations of recent doctoral graduates is in many cases significantly different to that of those who earned their PhDs as little as a decade ago. There are simply too many scholars for too few permanent roles.

Despite our differences, however, we work side by side and we fight for better conditions side by side. Casual staff fully support our permanently employed colleagues in retaining their jobs and rights and we deeply appreciate those who similarly support us. 

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