More than a dozen former UC and ANU students are preparing a class action lawsuit against UniLodge for alleged systemic underpayment and wage theft. The former students, who all worked as Residential Advisors (RA’s) during their time at university, are working with Adero Law, a Canberra based firm, who have estimated the underpayments range from $31,000 to $62,000.
Daniel Gock was 19 when he became an RA at his university residence, and didn’t question the roughly $115 he was being paid for an overnight shift from 5pm to 9am.
“When you’re living on campus and get a job that you can stay in your room for half the time you think ‘This is a sick gig!’ But then I also had to respond to some very serious incidents.”
As an RA, Gock was on call for 16 hour shifts where he would respond to incidents in the building. A standard incident could be a lost room key, a drunken fight, or noise complaint, whereas more serious incidents included mental health crisis such as self harm.
Gock said UniLodge paid him a two hours flat rate plus one overtime for these shifts, totalling roughly three and half hours pay for a 16 hour shift.
Adero Law is claiming the RA’s should have been paid an additional $200 to $300 per shift. In a statement to Honi Soit, Rahul Bedi, a senior associate at Adero Law, said this is ‘likely to result in one of the largest underpayments in the higher education sector.’
A spokesperson from UniLodge told the Sydney Morning Herald that “it was not an educational institution and it appeared Adero Law’s claims ‘stem from a misunderstanding of our business and the award that we operate under’.”
RA’s are currently paid under the Hospitality Award, however Bedi said there is no provision for overnight shifts under this award. This class action is expected to determine whether UniLodge should be acting under the Higher Education Award which would afford greater entitlements to RA’s.
Former UC student Taylor Meers was an RA during her second year of university, as well as working another three jobs to support herself. Meers said that adequate pay at UniLodge would have changed her experience at university.
“These were night shifts, so if we were paid adequately we would have had ample time during the day to attend more classes and study more regularly without having the pressure to have more jobs to pay rent at UniLodge.”
“It’s not a bad job for students wanting to seek employment on campus, it just needs more protections in place for the young workforce that doesn’t know their rights.”
For former ANU student, Gabriella Magyary the most challenging part of the job was responding to mental health crises. Just two weeks after starting her job, Magyary was asked to respond to a mental health crisis during an overnight shift, she had, however, not yet received any mental health response training.
Magyary said UniLodge wasn’t happy with how she responded to the incident, and she was reprimanded. It was another three months before she was trained in mental health first aid.
“It was pretty stressful and upsetting thing to walk into. That stuck with me, I wasn’t going to go into a room alone after that.”
There have been occasions of suicide at university residence in the past. Magyary said that as an RA, your biggest fear was attending one.
Magyary said this night had the largest lasting impact on her. As an RA, you respond to the mental health crises of your neighbours and peers, and Gabrielle said that the support for RA’s experiencing this was not adequate.
UniLodge does provide access to mental health support should it be requested, but Magyary says the lack of debrief culture meant many RA’s were dealing with these incidents alone.
“A lot of the training seems to be about how to deal with a crisis whereas we were charged with up-keeping mental health and spotting the signs for so many to make sure students didn’t slip into a spiral unnoticed. I think that [should be] the responsibility for someone far more qualified than 18 and 19 year olds with minimal mental health training.”
Curieux understands that the University of Canberra is aware of these allegations and has raised the issue with UniLodge. UniLodge is a private contractor which operates residential accomodation for students in twelve cities across Australia and New Zealand. Last year, UniLodge made a profit of $6.7 million dollars.