ABC forced to hand over almost $12m in back pay to casual staff

The ABC has been forced to part with $11.9m in back pay to more than 1800 former and current casual staff following a Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigation.

ABC reported its mistake to FWO after discovering casual employees had not received the correct entitlements under its enterprise agreement.

In total, 1907 ABC employees were underpaid $12.029m between October 2012 and February 2019. By the end of May, ABC had repaid $11.984m of those payments. ABC paid the workers 5.25% interest on the back payments.

Fair Work Inspectors identified that some casual staff were receiving flat rates of pay insufficient to cover entitlements including overtime, penalty rates and some allowances, and in some cases employees were paid less than the minimum hourly rate.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the broadcaster had done the right thing by coming forward and taking immediate steps to rectify the issues. The FWO and ABC have entered into an Enforceable Undertaking following the investigation.

“Enforceable Undertakings are provided for under the Fair Work Act and can be utilised for employers who self-disclose non-deliberate, though still serious, breaches to the Fair Work Ombudsman. We expect employers who self-disclose non-compliance to fully cooperate with our investigations, fast track all back-payments and take remediation action,” Parker said.

The terms of the EU are enforceable by a court.

“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, the ABC has committed to improving workplace practices across its whole workforce and will invest significantly in improved systems and processes, which will benefit its current and future employees,” Parker said.

“The ABC will also engage and pay for an independent expert, approved by the FWO, to conduct annual audits of its workplace compliance for the next three years. In addition, the ABC must implement an electronic record-keeping and rostering system, and train payroll and HR staff.”

In recognition of the seriousness of its contraventions, the ABC will also make a contrition payment of $600,000. The money will be paid into the Commonwealth’s Consolidated Revenue Fund for the benefit of the broader Australian community.

“While the extent and duration of the underpayments are disappointing, the FWO acknowledges the ABC’s remediation efforts, such as its comprehensive back payment initiatives and its commitment to avoid a repeat of this failure,” Parker said.

“In cases such as this where the breaches are not the result of deliberately unlawful conduct, the FWO’s focus is on ensuring employees get their entitlements paid to them as quickly as possible. Through the investigation and Enforceable Undertaking, lessons are learned and systems put in place to avoid such serious underpayments in the future.”

“When taken as a whole, these kinds of Enforceable Undertakings strike the right balance between ensuring repayment to employees and encouraging employers to come forward and take appropriate remediation action,” Parker said.

Affected ABC staff worked across the country in roles including camera operators, make-up artists, graphic designers, production managers, directors, producers, reporters and presenters.

Underpayments ranged from $7 to $180,000, with full remediation to occur by 31 July 2020. The broadcaster will also calculate and back-pay entitlements owed to a small number of breakfast shift producers due to timesheet errors, and some misclassified technology staff.


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