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Wage Theft – Article 3

In this final instalment on ‘Wage Theft’ we examine real life scenarios in the non-government education sector in South Australia.

As previously mentioned, the greatest mistake employees make is to presume their employer is paying them the correct wage or have a seemingly naive trust that their employer is paying them the correct wage. Perhaps that is one in the same. Such a view often originates with the fact they are employed in a religious faith-based school and believe such behaviour simply would not or could not occur. Wrong.

Take for example the case of two school assistants who had shared the role of managing and working in the canteen facility of a mid to large sized primary school.

When PID (Position Information Document) reviews were conducted by the IEU, it was discovered the staff were classified and paid as Grade 1A and 1, ie. assistants who work under close supervision. This classification was not applicable for the level of work being undertaken and the IEU immediately organised a meeting with the employer.

As is often the case with this particular employer, it accepted error had occurred but cited the statute of limitations for underpayment claims is 6 years. On that basis it capped the settlement figure offered to cover such a period, despite the employees having shared the role for over a decade. Further, to end the matter swiftly, the employer required the employees to sign a deed of settlement to ensure confidentiality and that no further claims would be made.

In this scenario underpaid employees who remain employed with the school need two things:

  1. Money
  2. Not to upset an employer for fear of drawing a target on their own back.

The outcome was predictable.

The offer was accepted. The employer saved tens of thousands of dollars; its veneer of religious respectability maintained.

Past and present principals and business managers responsible for the oversite of classification and salary of that school continued on, unabated.

However, in recent times, things have changed.

For one, legislation around such matters has evolved and employees and unions can seek significant financial penalties against employers who pay incorrect wages (salary/entitlements) whether accidental or not. These penalties have been increased to serve as a deterrent.

With a growing number of employees who do not have a master/servant view of the employment relationship, more are open to the idea of employers being held accountable.

Giving a current and ongoing example of this, a part time teacher at a Catholic school sought the assistance of the IEU about pay entitlements in Week Zero. (Week Zero is the week before students commence the year and when teachers are required to attend to undertake preparation and professional development.)

In broad terms, the teacher was required to attend work on a greater number of days than their part-time contract required because one of those days was a public holiday.

The employer acknowledged the error and corrected the underpayment.

However, this lead the part-time teacher to review their current payslips against past payslips. The teacher noticed the new bursar had paid a 25% loading on extra work done with regular classes above contracted hours. The teacher quickly realised this was not previously paid.

In addition, the teacher was already engaged in discussions with the Catholic Education Office about accrued personal leave entitlements not being transferred into the teacher’s current school account from previous employment in Catholic schools.

Given the growing volume of concern about underpayment, a dispute was lodged with the employer.  After many weeks of negotiation, an offer made to the employee to resolve all outstanding matters was rejected by the employee in part because it was subject to the following significant condition.

The school would only make a more generous settlement offer than that it believed was legally required on the basis that confidentiality applied.

Given the teacher considered similar errors were made to others on staff, and potentially more broadly in the Catholic system, the teacher refused to sign and a lesser amount was paid into their account.

The IEU wrote to the employer seeking confirmation the payment errors that applied to the teacher did not affect other employees (both within the school and its system) and if so, what it intended to do in so far as taking corrective action.

Several weeks later two IEU members, at the same school, received notification they had been underpaid and significant sums of money were being deposited into their bank accounts.

The IEU is not satisfied. Further investigations have led the IEU to believe there are more underpayment claims to come from this matter and will keep you posted.

The lesson to be learned is do not presume salary and entitlements are correct. Regularly check payslips and accrued entitlements and if you have a concern (or simply do not understand something no matter how great or small) contact the IEU. It is better to resolve any matters as soon as possible.

Speak to your local IEU Rep and or call the IEU office and speak with the responsible Organiser: 8410 0122

Frank Bernardi
Industrial Officer

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