MEDIA RELEASE: Peak student bodies welcome the Respect@Work report and call on the government to look after women during this pandemic

Peak student bodies welcome the Respect@Work report and call on the government to look after women during this pandemic.
The peak student bodies Council of Australian Postgraduate Student Associations (CAPA), National Union of Students (NUS), Council of International Students Australia (CISA) and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) are deeply disturbed at the extent of sexual harassment at Australian workplaces. We welcome the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report, and call on the Morrison Government to take immediate action on all of its recommendations.

Sexual harassment is never acceptable. The right to be free from sexual harassment is a human right that unfortunately far too many women in Australia, do not enjoy. Almost 40 per cent of Australian women and just over 25 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years. Almost 80 per cent said that one or more of their harassers were male. The reality for students is no different and these figures are unacceptable. We therefore welcome a start to reform on this important matter.

“Nobody should go to work feeling unsafe. We urge that the Morrison government works with Respect@Work actions the recommendations that have been made by the Commissioner”, says NUS National Women Officer, Humaira Nasrin.

“The safety of women, in particular women of colour, at workplaces is often overlooked and minimized. We encourage the investigation and monitoring of the effort to change this culture. We urge the government, workplaces and leaders to adopt the recommendations immediately”, says CISA National Women’s Officer, Belle Lim.

“For too long our peak organisations have been fighting to be free from sexual violence in our workplaces. NATSIPA calls on the Morrison government to immediately implement the recommendations of the Respect@Work report”, says NATSIPA President Sharlene Leroy-Dyer.

Together, we are urging the government to remember and mitigate risks associated with the women in our lives during these testing times. Particularly those who are on the frontline of this pandemic such as nurses, teachers, childcare workers and carers. As well as those who are at greater risk of domestic violence during isolation and the inevitable lockdown.
For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404
NUS National Women’s Officer Humaira Nasrin
M: 0420 766 021
CISA National Women’s officer Belle Lim
M: 0406 398 499
NATSIPA National President Dr. Sharlene Leroy-Dyer 
M: 0417 239 909

Postgraduate students are left out of the COVID-19 stimulus payments, says CAPA.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed that as it currently stands, most postgraduate students will not be eligible to benefit from the COVID-19 stimulus payments. We condemn the ignorance of this government to acknowledge the financial hardship of the postgraduate population even in these difficult times. 

Postgraduate students were already struggling with financial hardships and CAPA has consistently expressed concerns that this government needs to make youth allowance and Austudy available to all postgraduate students. Denying newstart support to postgraduate students now also means they will also miss out on this stimulus payment.

The Higher Education sector has taken a massive hit, international student enrolments are down and we have already seen the University of Tasmania enacting drastic measures by cutting 300+ courses. We are concerned that many other other universities will soon follow suit, and it’s the casual staff and postgraduate students here that will suffer. 

We estimate that 63% of research students have taken on a PhD without a stipend scholarship and have done so through assurances they will be provided casual teaching roles to sustain their living cost. These students and casual staff were already struggling financially, with this loss of income and without compensation from the university and government; there will be a significant increase of postgraduate students living in poverty. 

“Students are already doing it tough”, says National President Romana Begicevic. “The majority of research students are taking on their studies without a stipend scholarship and are unable to afford basic necessities such as food. The government must address the implications this virus will have on our universities, staff and students”. 

We demand that the Morrison government acknowledge the financial hardship of postgraduate students and extend the stimulus package and newstart allowances to include all students and staff affected by this disaster. 

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404

CAPA warns: “Dark days ahead for the Higher Education sector.”
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is eagerly awaiting a commitment to restore public funding to universities in light of the recent catastrophes affecting the Higher Education sector, as highlighted in our latest submission, on unlawful underpayment of employee’s remuneration. We further condemn the University of Tasmania’s decision to reduce course offerings during this difficult time. 

The Federal Government’s funding cuts over the years has pushed universities to operate as a business, leading them to become dependent on a volatile source of income, the international education market. In light of the bushfires and the coronavirus travel ban, we anticipate declining international student enrolments, and cost cutting responses at the expense of our education and staff jobs.  

“Tough times call for desperate measures”, says National President Romana Begicevic. “The shock decision by the University of Tasmania’s, Vice Chancellor, to significantly reduce course offerings in 2021, without consulting students and staff, is just another example of the underhanded measures that the universities are taking during this difficult time”. 

“It’s just not sensible that education, the key to future growth and economy, is so heavily reliant on the volatile international student market”, says Begicevic. “CAPA demands the government restores funding cuts from the education sector. Survival of our prestigious education institutions depends on it”. 

The downstream effect of this volatile income has resulted in course cuts, casualization of staff and staff dismissals as part of a more agile cost cutting strategy. Education is the key to future growth and the economy and therefore must be properly funded.

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0414 792 540

Download: Submission on Unlawful Underpayment of Employees’ Remuneration

It is crucial to consider what inequalities are now being exacerbated within the Australian higher education system, given high fees, low levels of income support, limited availability of scholarships for research students, and the blurred lines between work and study relationships.

While casual employment is generally understood to be associated with low-skill roles, this is less and less the case within universities in particular. As outlined above, Australian universities have a growing record of underpayment and non-payment of their employees, and their students are open to exploitation. Experiences within the sector—especially among those most vulnerable to exploitation (e.g., international students)—reveal problems in Australian Industrial Relations more broadly. On this basis, CAPA’s recommendations to the Senate Standing Committees on Economics are as follows:

  1. Improve institutional reporting and accountability around different forms of non-paid and underpaid employment and levels of remuneration.
    • Require employers to publicly report on all forms of ‘non-standard’ work and their levels of pay on a per head basis. This would include casual, fixed-term, work undertaken by individuals using ABNs, as well as sub-contractors/third-party providers. A body such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is well equipped to collect and disseminate this data.
    • Initiate an inquiry into the extent of unpaid labour, including working beyond paid hours and HDR study, in public institutions such as higher education.
  2. Address the spread of unpaid work as ‘training’ throughout Australia’s employment sectors, including within universities. This means acknowledging HDRs’ roles as university staff members and would require the following:
    • Make RTP (or equivalent value stipends) available to all HDR students.
    • Extend RTP stipends to the full length of HDR degrees at a minimum: 4+ years for PhDs and 2+ years for Masters by Research degrees.
    • Increase the minimum value of RTP stipends to at least the minimum wage.
    • Where not otherwise covered by an RTP or equivalent stipend for any reason (e.g., the expiration of their RTP stipend), make all full-time domestic HDR students eligible to receive Austudy and related Centrelink payments (subject to means testing).
  3. Launch an inquiry into international student exploitation across Australia, including the underpayment and non-payment of international student employees. This would aim to:
    • Provide adequate and clear employment information for international students.
    • Offer services and support in cases of international student exploitation.
    • Enforce penalties for non-compliant employers.