The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is back-paying staff more than $4.4 million, plus superannuation and interest, and has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
UTS reported its non-compliance to the regulator in May 2021 after becoming aware, when conducting an internal review while designing a new payroll system, that it had been underpaying employees’ minimum engagement entitlements since 2014.
The underpaid employees performed work across the university’s seven faculties, primarily at the main campus in the Sydney CBD. They were engaged as casual professional staff.
The underpayments occurred because UTS failed to review and update its employment contracts and payroll systems to reflect an increase in the minimum engagement pay for casual professional employees, first introduced under its 2014 professional staff enterprise agreement.
That agreement, and the University’s subsequent 2018 professional staff agreement, required casual professional employees to be paid for three hours per engagement, or one hour for those also enrolled as UTS students, regardless of whether they were required to work the whole time.
Prior to 2014, the University’s applicable professional staff enterprise agreement allowed UTS to enter into agreements with employees to pay them for shorter engagement periods.
Under its EU with the Fair Work Ombudsman, UTS has agreed to back-pay 2,777 current and former casual professional employees $4.4 million in minimum engagement entitlements underpaid between September 2014 and May 2021, plus more than $1.3 million in superannuation and interest.
UTS has already back-paid more than $3.5 million of the owed minimum engagement entitlements plus more than $1 million in superannuation and interest, and the EU requires the University to pay the remaining amounts owed by 31 July 2023.
Individual underpayments ranged from less than $1 to, in one instance, more than $209,000, with an average underpayment of $1,590.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said an Enforceable Undertaking was appropriate because from the point that UTS self-reported its non-compliance, it fully cooperated with FWO’s investigation and demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying all identified underpayments and putting in place systems and processes to ensure that they were not repeated.
“Under the EU, UTS has committed to implement stringent measures across multiple years to rectify its non-compliance issues and ensure workers are paid correctly,” Ms Parker said.
“The underpayments by the UTS are the latest warning to all universities, and employers generally, that if you don’t prioritise workplace compliance and apply all entitlements, you risk underpaying staff on a large scale and facing enforcement action,” Ms Parker said.
Under the EU, UTS has committed to undertaking a university-wide review with FWO oversight, which will ensure that all UTS staff can be confident they are being paid what they are owed.
The FWO announced last year that addressing systemic non-compliance in the universities sector was a top priority, and has since entered into Enforceable Undertakings with the University of Newcastle and Charles Sturt University and commenced two separate legal actions against the University of Melbourne.
“Any employer who needs help meeting their lawful obligations to their employees should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance,” Ms Parker said.
The EU requires UTS to implement systems and process improvements, including training, to ensure compliance so that all current and future workers continue to be paid correctly. These measures include the larger UTS-wide review across all staff groups, at its own cost, to identify and rectify any additional underpayments.