In the latest major underpayment case the Australian Catholic University (ANU) has revealed underpayment to 1,100 casual staff from 2016 to 2023 totalling $3.6m that stem from a failure to apply the correct higher rates of pay applicable to workers who are acting in higher duties.

“Our review identified that, in some circumstances, an employee was entitled to a higher rate for some activities, but they were not being consistently paid at the higher rate,” the ACU said on its website.

“For current staff who are impacted, ACU will make remediation payments during February,” the university said.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis notified employees about the situation on Wednesday.

“You deserve to be paid correctly for your work and it is our responsibility to ensure you are being paid correctly,” Skrbis said in a statement. “On behalf of the university, I would like to sincerely and unequivocally apologise on behalf of the university and the Senate to every employee – past and present.”

The ACU said that is has already notified the Fair Work Ombudsman over the underpayments, but it stressed that it did not commit wage theft.

“ACU is very apologetic for its error. Wage theft generally arises where there is an intentional underpayment. The university did not intend to underpay employees at all,” it said.

According to Skrbis, ACU is committed to wage integrity in line with their legal obligations and in upholding the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

“Our mission as a Catholic university commits us to treat every human person with dignity and respect,” Skrbis said.

NTEU ACU Branch President Leah Kaufmann called the situation an “extremely serious systemic wage underpayment.”

“Unlike some other universities, ACU management has reported itself, apologised, committed to full back payments within 28 days, and will be providing access to support for staff identified as the victims of underpayment,” Kaufmann said in a statement.

The union also welcomed the ACU’s commitment to pay every casual employee at the highest rate until they are confident that their payment systems are paying staff appropriately.

“This should be a lesson to all universities: if you’re not sure, pay more,” Kaufmann said.

Learnings for all businesses

Underpayments can arise from a multitude of minor errors, and they can add up very quickly.  The key lesson for all businesses is to review the totality of their remuneration systems, and have those systems reviewed externally by professionals with expertise in their industry”, explains ACAPMAs Elisha Radwanowski.

This is a lesson ACU has taken to heart, announcing that it is already improving its payroll and information systems to guarantee that staff are being paid correctly. Additional assurance measures and payroll controls have also been implemented this year to ensure systems and processes are providing accurate pay outcomes.

“ACU is also undertaking a broader employee entitlement assessment with the support of independent expert advisors. Any underpayments identified will be promptly remediated, with interest and superannuation contributions as required,” the ACU said.

Here to Help

This article is general in nature and covers things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. It is provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation.  ACAPMA Employment Professionals are available to assist ACAPMA members via employment@acapma.com.au. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $860inc GST per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts.  Visit: https://acapma.com.au/membership/   to learn more or to apply for ACAPMA membership.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM & IR)
Executive Manager for Employment and Compliance
ACAPMA

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