Aged care operator commits to rectifying underpayments

The Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (NSW), an operator of more than 70 residential aged care facilities and other community services under the Uniting brand in NSW and the ACT, has committed to back-pay its employees more than $3.3 million. The organisation has also signed an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman that compels it to change its processes to ensure compliance with workplace laws in the future.

Uniting self-reported that it had underpaid more than 9000 employees upon the conduct of an internal review after receiving complaints from a number of its staff. The underpayments occurred due to errors made by Uniting in providing laundry, uniform, and vehicle allowances, as well as failing to provide shift workers an extra week of annual leave they were entitled to each year.

Many of the affected employees worked as front line carers and as community and disability services workers. They were covered by a number of different Enterprise Agreements.

Uniting agreed to back-pay 9561 workers a total of $3.36 million, which includes interest, for underpayments that occurred between 2013 and 2019. Individual underpayments range from less than $1 to more than $11,000. It has already back-paid the majority of workers, but the Enforceable Undertaking will ensure the organisation will pay any outstanding amounts to former employees by 15 August 2020, as well as a range of other obligations to ensure future compliance.

“Uniting demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying all underpayments owed to its workers,”Fair Work Ombudsman, Sandra Parker, said. “The Enforceable Undertaking commits the aged care operator to stringent measures to protect its employees. This includes engaging, at its own cost, an expert auditing firm to conduct an independent assessment of the outcomes of its rectification program and to audit its compliance with workplace laws over the next two years.

“This matter serves as a warning to all organisations that if you don’t prioritise workplace compliance, you risk underpaying staff on a large scale and face not only a massive administrative exercise calculating underpayments but the cost of a significant back-payment bill,” Parker added. “Any employers who need help meeting their lawful workplace obligations should contact us.”

Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Uniting must also fund an independent organisation to operate a hotline for the next four months so employees can make enquiries on their entitlements, underpayments, or related employment concerns.

Uniting is also required to display public, workplace and online notices detailing its workplace law breaches and apologise to workers.

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