The ABC has agreed to a $600,000 “contrition payment” after paying back almost 2000 current and former casual staff $11.9 million to settle a damaging worker underpayment scandal.
The national broadcaster has entered into an enforceable undertaking with the FWO after an investigation found instances where 1907 “flat rate” casuals had not received overtime, penalties and some allowances.
The probe also found that some casuals employed between October 2012 and February 2019 had been paid less than the minimum hourly rate.
The contrition payment, similar to a court-ordered penalty, will be paid into the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund to be spent in the Australian community.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the broadcaster had come forward to admit its mistakes, and there was nothing deliberate about it.
“The extent and duration of the underpayments are disappointing,” she said.
The ABC is now subject to an enforceable undertaking to fix the issues that caused the problem.
In addition to paying back staff and making a $600,000 contrition payment, it will have to fund independent audits of its workplace systems for the next three years.
It will also have to implement an electronic record-keeping and rostering system, and better train payroll and human resources staff.
An ABC spokesman confirmed the broadcaster had signed an enforceable undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman and again apologised to affected staff for an unintentional error.
“A contrition payment will be made as a result of the negotiations with the Fair Work Ombudsman,” the spokesman said.
“This payment has been budgeted in the current financial year and will have no impact on the requirement to find ongoing savings.”
In what’s believed to be the biggest case on record, Woolworths admitted underpaying thousands of its workers as much as $300 million over the past decade.
However, Ms Parker said the taxpayer-funded ABC was not immune from workplace regulations.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman saw no justification in treating a public statutory company differently from any private sector company – all employers must comply with Australia’s workplace laws,” Ms Parker said.
“Contrition payments provide a deterrent to non-compliance, which is commensurate with a penalty that a court might impose, but without the cost and delay of drawn out litigations.”
The ABC has also paid staff 5.25 percent interest on the back-payments and 5.25 per cent interest on superannuation.
The underpayments affected a range of casual ABC staff, including make-up artists, journalists, camera operators, graphic designers and production managers.
The additional pressure on the ABC comes as the broadcaster prepares to cut as many as 250 staff to meet a $41 million annual budget shortfall.
The terms of the ABC’s undertaking are enforceable by a court.