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UTS to back-pay staff over $5.7 million

The University admitted to the Fair Work Ombudsman that it had underpaid casual staff between 2014 and 2021.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), which will see it pay staff over $5.7 million in unpaid wages, superannuation, and interest, according to a statement from the FWO yesterday.

An EU is an agreement between the FWO and an employer who has failed to comply with workplace regulations. As opposed to taking the employer to court, an EU obliges them to acknowledge the breach, rectify it, and implement compliance measures, such as internal audits.

In this case, UTS notified the FWO in May 2021 that it realised it had been underpaying its casual staff’s minimum engagement entitlements since 2014, which is when a professional staff enterprise agreement introduced the minimum engagement pay for casual employees. The University admitted that it failed to update its payroll system or staff contracts to reflect this increase in pay. 

A minimum engagement period is the minimum amount of time that an employer can roster an employee to work. If the employee works for a period shorter than the minimum engagement period, they are entitled to be paid for the entire minimum engagement period.

In the case of UTS, a professional staff agreement in 2018 established that the minimum engagement period was three hours for casual professional staff and one hour for UTS students.

The EU obliges UTS to back-pay 2,777 current and former casual staff for the September 2014 to May 2021 period. This amounts to more than $4.4 million in minimum engagement entitlements, in addition to over $1.3 million to reflect what would have been accrued superannuation and interest. 

As of the time of writing, UTS has already back-paid more than $3.5 million in entitlements and over $1 million in superannuation and interest. The average back-payment was $1,590, although the individual underpayments ranged from less than $1 to over $209,000. UTS has until 31 July to pay the remaining sum.

The EU also requires UTS to introduce a series of compliance measures to ensure that staff are paid correctly in future. This includes updates to their current systems, processes and training.

UTS said in a statement that they have “apologised unreservedly to the impacted staff and taken steps to make things right” and that they have undertaken a program to “rectify the identified underpayments and ensure the issue does not reoccur”.

The FWO has named the university sector as a “main priority” in addressing systemic non-compliance of workplace laws. The FWO has since entered into EUs with Charles Sturt University and the University of Newcastle and has initiated two court proceedings with the University of Melbourne

The UTS Branch of the NTEU has been contacted for comment.

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