Aged care back-pays more than $3.5 million to 4,971 employees

There were 3,304 Victorian workers underpaid more than $2.7 million and 1,667 Tasmanian workers underpaid more than $800,000.

Aged care services provider Uniting AgeWell Limited has back-paid staff more than $3.5 million including interest and superannuation and signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The not-for-profit charitable organisation, wholly owned by the Uniting Church in Australia, self-reported its non-compliance to the regulator in September 2021 after discovering underpayments in a self-initiated review.

The company provides services across Victoria and Tasmania such as residential care; home-based care; independent living services; allied health and therapy programs; and respite and carer support.

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Underpayments were caused by Uniting AgeWell interpreting its enterprise agreements incorrectly, complicated rostering arrangements, and the failure to pay the right penalty rates and allowances owed.

Most of the underpayments involved a failure to pay overtime rates, for example to employees who had had insufficient rest breaks between shifts or worked more than 76 hours in a fortnight. Shift and public holiday penalties, and allowances, were also underpaid.

As a result, between 2015 and 2021, Uniting AgeWell underpaid 4,971 employees a total of about $3.5 million plus $127,640 in superannuation. There were 3,304 Victorian workers underpaid more than $2.7 million and 1,667 Tasmanian workers underpaid more than $800,000.

The company has remediated all underpayments to all employees it could find, with more than $3.5 million, including interest and superannuation, paid to 4,224 current and former employees. The balance is to be rectified in coming months.

Most back-payments range from less than $1 to up to $10,000, with 36 back-payments ranged from $10,000 to the highest backpayment of $104,345.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said an EU was appropriate as Uniting AgeWell had cooperated with the FWO’s investigation and demonstrated a firm commitment to rectifying underpayments and reforming its practices.

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“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Uniting AgeWell has committed to implementing stringent measures to improve compliance and protect the rights of its workforce. These measures include commissioning, at its own cost, an independent audit to check its compliance with workplace laws later this year,” Ms Parker said.

“This matter demonstrates how important it is for employers to identify and fix non-compliance in their processes. Errors particularly in Uniting AgeWell’s rostering and understanding of certain entitlements were left unchecked, which left hardworking employees missing out on their money,” Ms Parker said.

“All employers need to invest the time and resources to ensure they are meeting all lawful entitlements. This includes the higher rates for overtime and penalties.”

Underpaid employees, who worked full-time, part-time and casually, worked in locations across metropolitan and regional Victoria and Tasmania, including Melbourne, Geelong, Bendigo, Hobart and Launceston. Roles included nurse, bus driver, chef, social worker, occupational therapist, laundry assistant, lifestyle assistant, home care worker and more.

The EU also requires Uniting AgeWell to have relevant staff complete workplace training with a qualified professional.