Misuse of fixed-term contract results in massive fine for Victorian school
A Victorian school has been fined more than $150,000 by the Federal Court after it was found to have illegally employed 13 teachers on fixed-term contracts and then tampered with evidence to avoid prosecution.
The illegal activity was uncovered after an investigation by the IEUA-VICTAS Branch into an alleged use of fixed-term contracts outside of the provision of the Victorian Teachers’ Award at the Australian International Academy of Education’s Coburg campus.
As reported in The Age on 8 June, the IEUA-VICTAS Branch investigation found that “the school was entitled to hire just three teachers on fixed-term contracts under the teachers' award in 2012” and that “union officials went to inspect the school's files, [the school’s director-general had] instructed his personal assistant to change teachers' employment agreements, altering their status from replacement staff to full-time employees”.
In addition to the fine for the school – believed to be one of the largest ever imposed on an Australian school – the school’s director-general, Salah Salman, received a personal fine of $2,200 for “obstructing union officials seeking to inspect the teachers' contracts”.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the case served as a warning to employers about the financial penalties that can be imposed if breaches in the use of fixed-term contracts are exposed.
Mr Burke said the financial and personal implications for employees who continue to be placed on fixed-term contracts without due cause were an underlying factor as to why fines for such breaches were so heavy.
“For those employed on rolling fixed-term contacts, their professional and personal lives are reduced to a waiting game. Will I be employed next year? Can I make my mortgage repayments?
“Employers using such contracts outside the parameters for which they were established and for their own benefit is simply shameful.
“In this case, the Federal Court has reinforced that fixed-term contracts should only be used in very specific circumstances where there is an identifiable short-term need and not as an on-going mechanism for the employment of school employees,” Mr Burke said.
Mr Burke said the use of rolling fixed-term contracts was an issue especially for beginning educators and school officers.
“A fixed-term contract should never be treated as a probationary period for a teacher and should also not exceed 12 months, except in exceptional circumstances.
“For example, if the employer has received special funding for an identifiable period that exceeds 12 months, the length of a fixed-term contract can match this period.
“If there is a continuing short-term need, employees can elect (at the end of their 12 month appointment) to enter into another fixed-term contract if they so choose,” Mr Burke said.
Examples of such short-term needs include:
- a special project on-going at the school;
- increased short term funding;
- nominated leave of an existing employee;
- class size issues;
- periods of maternity leave; and
- proposed school closure.
Members who believe that they have been appointed on a fixed-term contract without the presence of an identifiable short-term need should contact our union.
One of our Industrial Services Team will then be able to to determine whether the fixed-term contract should be challenged and provide advice and assistance in seeking continuing employment.