Class Act: Top-heavy income system sinks the boat

Vast discrepancy: CEOS are being rewarded with salaries far and above the many people working in their organisations.
Vast discrepancy: CEOS are being rewarded with salaries far and above the many people working in their organisations.

I am sure you will have all seen the news over the past weeks relating to chief executive officer pay and the growing disparity between the pay of those in management positions and that of workers.

The Australian Council of Superannuation recently published a report showing that the total pay for Australian top management in 2017 was the highest it has been for 17 years with the top salary being $A36.8 million per year.

Top management increased their average yearly salary by 12 per cent (to an average of $A4.36 million per year) while salaries of workers barely increased enough to match inflation. Added to this is the additional insult imposed by the cut in penalty rates.

Do we get the benefit of such high salaries for our top management? Fitza doesn’t think so. In a recent paper, he argued “the effect of CEO leadership is almost indistinguishable from the effect of chance”. In other words, there is no evidence that top management contributes to the profitability and productivity of an organisation.

But what does this have to do with education you wonder? 

In our neoliberal managerial world we see increasing criticism in the disparity between VC salaries and the salaries of the workers who actually deliver the core business of the university, TAFE or school.

This means that students suffer: they are not given the quality of education necessary to prepare them to function as thinking, critical citizens.

In Australia, many VCs take home more income a week than most casuals do in an entire year, yet it is the casual workers in universities (over 57 per cent of the UNE workforce are in insecure employment – 44 per cent casual and 13 per cent fixed term contracts) who perform much of the core business of the university. 

Rather than increasing the number of staff who actually deliver core business we are seeing an increase in management positions; a phenomenon Glaser identifies as the creation of “bullshit” jobs, whose function appears to be to support the status of those above them (after all, he says, importance is measured by the number of staff reporting to a position).

Identifying exactly what these roles contribute to the core business of the university is often difficult if not impossible.

A consequence of their huge drain on the finances of the university is the increasing pressure for academics and professional staff below them to work harder, to do more, and to do this with less resources. Staff who leave are not replaced. Restructure after restructure sees the loss of positions (or an endless freeze on replacing those who leave) for those who actually do the core business, and an increase in managers. 

For students, the impact is significant. Support staff are working impossible loads and not able to offer students time. Academic staff are teaching bigger and bigger cohorts of students – in one faculty we calculated that the payment proposed for off-campus teaching at one point meant that a staff member working to rule (and not above and beyond) would offer only 2.5 seconds to each student per trimester.

Then we have the current situation where in one area off-campus students actually receive no paid teaching time (presumably the online teaching platform will “teach” and the human at the other end of that platform is only available to answer questions not related to taught content).

In this neoliberal managerial world where the role of management is reified beyond any possibility of contribution matching rewards, we see the downgrading of the status of workers and a devaluing of the work performed by them.

This means that students suffer: they are not given the quality of education necessary to prepare them to function as thinking, critical citizens.

Instead they are given a watered-down form of propaganda that prepares them to slide into employment as compliant, unquestioning workers who accept their place in life and in society with no expectation of anything different.

I wonder where and when in our history we have seen something similar?

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