Casual relief teachers in Victoria are being ripped off. A casual relief teacher in New South Wales receives $440 a day, in Tasmania they receive $400 and in Western Australian, just $383.
However, in Victoria, their pay can be as low as $309 a day, and even less if they are not a citizen. This is because Victorian casual relief teachers are mostly forced to work through private agencies.
These agencies charge schools about $500 a day, with the teachers paid as little as one half of this amount. Victorian teachers are subject to two separate awards: the state award of $383 a day, which applies to all who work directly for a school; and the federal award of $250 a day, which applies only to casual relief teachers who work through an agency.
In practice, the bottom rate of $250 is reserved for teachers who are not citizens and cannot quit their job to find a better deal.
The rates paid to citizens vary from as low as $309 a day for inexperienced teachers, working through the Staffing Organisation Services agency, to $376 a day for highly-experienced teachers working through the ANZUK agency. This high rate is only paid if the teacher can prove their experience and is aware of the differential pay.
Inevitably, the agencies’ drive for profits means that they preference graduates.
Agencies keep teachers on their books by entering into exclusive and legally questionable contracts with schools, which prohibit them from employing teachers from outside that agency.
When an agency signs up all or most of the schools in a region, it effectively creates a closed shop. This is the case in Geelong, where anzuk.education dominates.
To make matters worse, many contracts forbid teachers from working directly for any school the agency has assigned them to, unless that school is willing to “buy” them from the agency at an exorbitant cost.
Agencies have been able to get away with this because of a shortage of work in major cities, allowing agencies to dictate the terms.
This changed in Victoria last year when the government adopted the Tutor Learning Initiative — a scheme that employs thousands of casual relief teachers as tutors, to help students catch up after the COVID-19 lockdowns. This led to a shortage of casual relief teachers and a corresponding increase in their bargaining power.
The Australian Education Union’s casual relief teacher group has is pressuring the government to pay the full Victorian award rate regardless of whether they work through an agency or directly for a school.
Exactly how this can be achieved is still debated. Some argue that the private agencies should be given a government subsidy if they pay the full $383 per day to each teacher. This approach has the advantage of ensuring that teachers who work through an agency are not financially disadvantaged. But, it would entail a large transfer of wealth from the government to private agencies.
Other casual relief teachers, including this author, want the government to mandate agencies to pay the full Victorian award of $383 per day. The schools would then be required to pay the full agency fee. This would force Victorian schools to employ casual relief teachers directly, as happens in other states.
Agency fees are wage theft and casual relief teachers in Melbourne and Geelong are currently losing up to $6000 a year.