Widespread wage theft – How to protect your pay

In our last edition of Newsmonth, Industrial Coordinator Amanda Hioe provided several examples of major companies that had been entangled in cases of wage theft, including 7Eleven, Caltex, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Red Rooster.

No sector is immune to underpaying its workers, with recent news that the Australian Catholic University underpaid 1100 workers to the tune of $3.6 million over a seven-year period.

And it’s not just the tertiary sector. In 2023, the IEU recovered $1.8 million in underpayments for members.

Tertiary sector a main offender

Prior to the ACU revelation, a report from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) released in December 2023 revealed that more than 97,000 workers in the tertiary education sector had lost $159 million to wage theft, mainly since 2014.

The two worst offenders in NSW, according to the NTEU, were Wollongong University and the University of Sydney. Melbourne University topped the list with $45 million in unpaid wages. “Unfortunately, these numbers will only get worse,” the NTEU said in its report. ACU was not listed at the time.

In December, SBS reported that eight university wage-theft cases were ongoing.

The ACU has denied it has taken part in wage theft, telling the ABC, “Wage theft generally arises where there is an intentional underpayment.” Whether it’s intentional or accidental, the impact on the employee is the same – lost earnings.

The ACU has apologised and committed to paying the affected workers with interest. In my reading, no mention has been made of any related superannuation payments, or lost earnings on these payments, owing to the impacted workers.

The impacted workers were casual or sessional workers, some of whom no longer work for the university. The NTEU report concluded that casualisation of staff was a predominant factor causing the blight of wage theft in the tertiary education sector.

Ways to stay wage safe

It is critical that you are not underpaid and just as important that you are not being overpaid.

As mentioned in previous IEU advice, if an employer overpays a worker, the employer can and often will demand repayment of that overpayment.

The start of a new school year is a good time to check your pay slip to ensure you are being paid the correct rate.

Here are five things you could do to start the year with a wage-security check:

  • Check your first pay slip against the salary scales posted on the IEU website.
  • Check when your next pay increase is due. Note that most pay increases are due in the first full pay period after the nominated date. (Many independent schools have made discretionary payments above the rate in the multi-enterprise agreement or have committed to doing so at different times this year. Check the list on our website.) Speak with your IEU chapter rep and/or contact the IEU if you are unsure.
  • If you think you have been incorrectly classified (for example, you have not been paid in accordance to your salary band or level) please check your multi- enterprise agreement (on our website) and speak with your chapter rep or organiser if you have any questions.
  • Ensure your superannuation contributions are being paid into your fund at the correct intervals. Check with your super fund if you’re unsure – many funds have apps through which you can track contributions.
  • Speak with new colleagues and casual staff and invite them to join the IEU if they’re not already members. Greater union numbers mean stronger union power.

You are entitled to be paid accurately for your work, and it is your employer’s responsibility to ensure this.

Your union also believes you should be paid a fair and just wage that adequately reflects your responsibilities and contribution to our society.

I look forward to working with you all in 2024 in our collective responsibility to pursue this aim.