University of New South Wales accused of 'knowingly' underpaying employees

FWO also struggling to verify underpayment claims due to the contraventions

University of New South Wales accused of 'knowingly' underpaying employees

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is accused of serious contraventions under the Fair Work Act after it "knowingly committed" record-keeping breaches since 2018.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced it commenced legal action against the UNSW for breaching laws related to record-keeping, pay slips, and frequency of wage payments between 2017 and 2022.

According to the FWO, the UNSW allegedly failed to make and keep records of hours, rates of pay and details of loadings, as well as other entitlements owed to casual academic employees.

The UNSW also allegedly failed to include lawfully required information in pay slips, such as basic information relating to pay rates and casual loading.

It also allegedly failed to pay staff wages at least monthly for all hours worked. According to the FWO, UNSW staff were often unlawfully paid certain parts of their entitlements "several weeks or even months" after they performed the work.

'Knowingly committed' the breaches

According to the FWO, its management was made aware that some of its practices were inadequate since March 2018, and they had been previously urged to address the non-compliance issues.

"The FWO therefore alleges that from March 2018 some of UNSW’s alleged record-keeping breaches were committed knowingly and as part of a systematic pattern of conduct and meet the definition of 'serious contraventions' under the Fair Work Act," the FWO said in a media release.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth also noted that the contraventions also made it difficult to properly verify the UNSW's self-reported underpayments.

"Record-keeping is a crucial part of compliance with workplace laws, and this litigation and the penalties we will seek are a warning to all employers to prioritise getting records right," Booth said in a statement.

"It is completely unacceptable for an employer's record-keeping practices to be so poor that they prevent us from assessing what hours its employees have worked and whether it has paid its employees their full lawful entitlements."

The university is now facing up to $66,600 per alleged contravention, and $666,000 per serious offence, according to the FWO.

UNSW statement

The legal action from the FWO came after it was investigated in 2020 after the UNSW self-reported its non-compliance.

A UNSW spokesperson told Sky News they received a notice for legal proceedings, which will be "reviewed and responded to via legal forums."

The spokesperson added that the institution is committed to ensuring staff receive the correct entitlements in line with legislation and UNSW enterprise agreements.

The UNSW has also launched an extensive back-payment programme and has been engaging with the FWO in relation to its violations since June 2020.

"As part of the review, UNSW has been progressing repayments to a significant number of impacted current and former staff and has so far repaid approximately $11 million, including interest and superannuation. The review is ongoing," the spokesperson said.

'Not surprising'

Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said it welcomed the legal actions against UNSW but noted that the case was not a surprise.

"These latest allegations which stem from UNSW self-reporting wage theft are shocking but not surprising given the proliferation of insecure work at the university," said NTEU UNSW Branch President Associate Professor Richard Vickery in a statement.

"Management must show it is serious about fixing the unacceptable practices that have sadly led us to this point."

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