13 July 2023

University of Wollongong admits underpaying 6000 staff, bill expected to hit $8 million

| Jen White
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Entrance sign to the University of Wollongong.

The University of Wollongong has apologised to 6000 current and former staff who have been underpaid. Photo: UOW.

The University of Wollongong has admitted underpaying 6000 current and former staff about $8 million over the past seven years.

In a letter to staff, Vice-Chancellor Professor Patricia Davidson said the university was addressing the underpayments, which mainly affected casual professional services staff.

The university has self-reported the issue to the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and Prof Davidson said it was cooperating with regulatory authorities to “undertake a comprehensive and transparent remediation process that will fully reimburse affected staff members”.

“While we’re still determining the exact extent of underpayment, our current estimates suggest approximately 6000 current and former staff members are affected and the remediation payments to staff could cost the university around $8 million,” Prof Davidson said.

The main underpayments related to casual professional services staff payments, including shift penalties going back to 2019, and minimum hours dating back to 2016.

Other affected payments include non-casual staff payments (some payments for weekend shift penalties, and leave accruals for part-time and rostered staff, long service leave accrual for staff with multiple positions, and post casual conversion, and Special Additional Leave deductions following the COVID-19 pandemic, and some exit payments dating back to 2017).

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Prof Davidson said the university was engaging an independent external auditor to determine the period in which underpayments occurred, the amount, and how staff would be reimbursed.

“Affected staff will be contacted directly with personalised communications, clearly laying out a full repayment amount, and when to expect payment,” Prof Davidson’s letter said.

“We expect the remediation process to take approximately six to 12 months, depending on the amount of time it will take to thoroughly check individual records and timesheets, and UOW’s ability to reach former staff whose contact details have changed.

“UOW is taking steps to enhance systems and processes to prevent similar issues from happening again. Systems are being updated, and UOW staff engaging casual and non-casual staff will be provided with the tools to ensure underpayments do not recur.

“UOW’s financial position is steadily recovering, following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed and able to fund remediation without curtailing normal university operations.

“Understandably, for many of us, this news will cause some frustration and concern. Let me assure you of my resolve to see through a full and transparent remediation process, alongside the important work of assessing and implementing solutions to prevent these sorts of critical failures in the future.

“I deeply value the commitment and dedication of staff and the contribution that every one of you makes to the success of our university. On behalf of UOW, I apologise to staff affected and for this disruption.”

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