South East Queensland’s state-owned water supplier, Seqwater will back-pay more than $7 million in unpaid wages, after an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced an investigation in 2020 following underpayment allegations through the media.
Seqwater has now signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure its ongoing compliance with Commonwealth workplace laws.
Fair Work Ombudsman, Sandra Parker, said that an EU was appropriate because Seqwater had shown a strong commitment to rectifying underpayments and to ensuring future compliance.
“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Seqwater has committed to implementing stringent measures to ensure workers are being paid correctly. These measures include engaging, at the organisation’s own cost, audits of its compliance with workplace laws over the next two years,” Ms Parker said.
“Seqwater’s breaches and subsequent significant back-pay bill demonstrate how important it is for employers to place a high priority on workplace compliance, including having a clear understanding of how any enterprise agreements apply and performing regular checks to ensure they are providing employees with all lawful entitlements.”
“Any employer who needs help meeting their obligations to their employees should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.”
Following feedback from industrial relations consultants, Seqwater advised that it was conducting a review to determine whether it had underpaid staff.
Seqwater has now identified hundreds of its employees were underpaid various entitlements under the organisation’s enterprise agreements over many years.
Many employees were underpaid because Seqwater incorrectly determined that it was not required to provide them with entitlements listed in its enterprise agreements because they were on individual contracts. Payroll system errors and process issues also caused underpayments.
The underpaid employees performed work in Brisbane and at locations across South East Queensland, including Capalaba, Molendinar, Wyaralong, Ipswich, Mt Crosby, Kilcoy, Banksia Beach, Caboolture, and Noosa.
Most of the underpayments relate to overtime pay, but other entitlements were also underpaid, such as travel, on-call and call-back allowances, remote assistance allowance, leave loading and ordinary hourly rates. Seqwater also breached record-keeping and pay slip laws.
SeqWater Chief Executive Officer, Neil Brennan, has since issued an apology to affected workers.
“I want to apologise to both our former and current employees who have been affected by this issue,” he said.
“Seqwater commenced a large-scale review of our remuneration practices in 2020 to determine whether there were any areas of concern.
“We have been working closely since this time with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), our people and their unions and we are nearing the end of repayments to both current and former employees.
“We are undertaking an extensive program of work to repay current and former staff and have implemented a comprehensive suite of controls to ensure compliance with obligations.”
Staff repayments are ongoing, with 790 current and former employees having been back-paid a total of $7.75 million to date, including superannuation and interest.
The workers were underpaid between 2016 and 2022. Individual back-payments have ranged from less than $1 to more than $380,000.
Mr Brennan said Seqwater would introduce ongoing payroll reviews and employee education programs to avoid future transgressions.
“Additional reviews are being undertaken following each pay run while we work towards implementing a new payroll system,” Mr Brennan said.
“In addition, an employee education program has also been rolled out across the business, so employees and leaders better understand entitlements and what they are able to claim.
“Getting this right and paying our people correctly is of the utmost importance and we are committed to continuing to work with our people, their unions and the Fair Work Ombudsman.”