Medical research institute signs undertaking to back pay employees

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has committed to back-pay more than $350,000 to its employees after entering into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The not-for-profit organisation, which conducts biomedical research and offers postgraduate training, self-reported last year that it had underpaid current and former employees due to having failed to take into account the modern awards.

The institute continued to pay the affected employees according to pre-modern award rates which it believed were still valid, when it should have been paying them according to modern awards, which contained more generous provisions for a number of pay rates and entitlements. It resulted in underpayments of employees’ minimum shift engagements, meal allowances, first aid allowance, and penalty rates for overtime, weekend and public holiday work.

In total, the organisation underpaid 423 current and former employees who have worked there as research and animal assistants and technicians, facilities/maintenance employees and students undertaking casual research, data entry, events and office work. The underpayments totalled $350,322 between January 2014 and October 2019, with individual underpayments ranging from $3 to $ 21267.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has located and back-paid the majority of employees. It has also paid superannuation and interest on back-payment amounts.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that an Enforceable Undertaking was appropriate, as the organisation demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying all underpayments promptly. She noted that the institute’s cooperation with the investigation, and the significant impact of COVID-19 pandemic on its revenue, were factors considered in determining that it should not be required to make a contrition payment.

Under the Enforceable Undertaking, the Institute must operate a hotline for the next six months that employees can use to make enquiries in relation to their entitlements, underpayments or related employment concerns. It is also required to display public, workplace and online notices detailing its workplace law breaches.

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