Victorian teachers win $37m over unlawful laptop scheme

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Victorian teachers win $37m over unlawful laptop scheme

Court finds in educators' favour.

The Victorian government has been forced to repay teachers $37 million after the federal court found its scheme to make teachers lease laptops from the Education department was unlawful.

Last month the federal court ruled that the scheme was illegal under the Fair Work Act, which prohibits employers from forcing staff to spend money on a specifc product or service if it is unreasonable.

The Australian Education Union had launched legal action in 2013 on behalf of teachers against the Victorian Department of Education's 2009 mandate that teachers have access to a laptop in classrooms. 

Under the scheme, teachers were restricted from bringing in their own devices, and instead made to lease laptops from the department.

It charged between $4 and $17 per fortnight for the machines, which was automatically taken out of teacher salaries. The agency operated under a standard four-year lease agreement.

Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg last month said [pdf] the laptop leasing program was unreasonable as teachers had no choice but to participate in the scheme.

He said it inflicted "excessive" costs and did not benefit teachers.

The Victorian government today said it would not appeal the court's decision given laptops were an essential tool for teachers.

It agreed to pay back $37 million to 46,000 of the state's teachers.

It also promised to contribute to some of the Australian Education Union's legal costs, which encouraged the union to end its pursuit for penalties under the Fair Work Act.

The repayments include interest and will vary individually based on the type of computer involved and how long it was in use.

"Most teachers who have taken part in the program can expect to receive several hundred dollars," state Education Minister James Merlino said in a statement.

The move has potential implications for other jurisdictions across the country, as NSW and Western Australia operate similar laptop leasing programs.

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