The Australian Education Union (AEU) has claimed victory in a legal battle in the Federal Court of Australia over a laptop scheme involving thousands of teachers.
Victorian teachers had seen money deducted from the pay cheques to cover the costs of laptops under the “Notebooks for Teachers and Principals Program”.
The legal case centred on deductions from a sample group of 11 teachers, with justice Mordecai Bromberg ruling them unreasonable.
Justice Bromberg found the deductions were not permitted under the Fair Work Act, and that the failure of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to have paid the teachers in full was a contravention of the Fair Work Act.
While the case dealt with claims by that group of 11 teachers, the judge noted the proceedings concern the lawfulness of deductions made in relation to many tens of thousands of teachers.
The department deducted more than $20 million from the salaries of participating teachers as “contributions” to the cost of the laptop computers during the claim period between 1 July 2009 and 29 November 2013. About nine in 10 teachers participated in the program.
Between $4 and $17 was deducted from participating teachers’ and principals’ pay each fortnight by the department.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) had challenged the lawfulness of those deductions and sought orders that the amounts deducted be paid to those teachers.
The AEU celebrated the ruling, claiming it had “just won millions of dollars back-payment for more than 40,000 Victorian teachers and principals”.
It was unreasonable to expect teachers and principals to pay for accessing their work computers, said AEU Victorian president Meredith Peace.
“Students themselves in many schools have laptops under the one-to-one laptop program. Teachers are expected to engage their students in learning through digital devices and teach them the ICT skills they need to be successful learners in an increasingly digitised world, so they need a laptop,” she said.
Justice Bromberg noted there were unresolved questions, including orders now to be made in relation to the group of 11 teachers and the further disposition of the claims yet to be determined.
A department spokesman stated it would "closely consider the court’s decision".
Proceedings are listed for directions at 9.30 am on 25 November 2015.