In an example like no other demonstrating the complexity employers face in navigating modern awards, a domestic violence refuge has unwittingly underpaid its staff by over $50,000.
The Tennant Creek Women’s Refuge – a shelter in the Northern Territory for women and children who are victims of domestic violence – was found to have inadvertently underpaid 11 of its employees by $50,664 over the 2015-16 financial year.
Comprising a mixture of full-time and casual workers, the refuge paid employees flat hourly rates of between $26.75 and $37.79. This undercut the legislated minimum rates under the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Award, which entitled the workers to penalty rates of as much as $65.40 per hour on Sundays.
The largest single underpayment amounted to $14,374.
Once the mistake was identified as part of an audit by the Fair Work Ombudsman, the refuge reimbursed the affected employees in full and committed to change its payroll process in order to remain compliant going forward.
“This case highlights the importance of all employers ensuring they are fully aware of the minimum entitlements that apply to their employees,” ombudsman Natalie James said.
“We are committed to helping employers rectify their non-compliance issues, but business operators need to make an effort to get the basics right in the first place.”
However, the fact that a not-for-profit organisation, with the express purpose of helping vulnerable people, was caught out demonstrates the complexity of the system and the onerous burden it places on employers – taking time and resources away from their core focus.
Business owners have long decried the complexity of the award system, with its staggered rates across ordinary hours, overtime, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, as well as a lack of consistency across the different awards and confusion as to which award actually covers an employee.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.