National community health and aged services organisation Silver Chain Group Limited has back-paid staff in Western Australia more than $17 million and entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The not-for-profit organisation self-reported its non-compliance to the FWO in 2020 after becoming aware of underpayments following a review it commenced to investigate employee concerns.
Between 2013 and 2021, Silver Chain’s WA employees were underpaid entitlements set out in the Silver Chain Group Limited National (Non-Nursing) Enterprise Agreement 2017 (and its 2014 and 2009 predecessor Enterprise Agreements).
The employees performed work at various locations in WA, servicing Silver Chain clients throughout Perth and in regional areas, including Albany, Bunbury, Busselton, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Mandurah, Margaret River, Narrogin and Port Hedland.
Most of the underpaid employees were engaged part-time in care aide, home help and therapy assistant positions. Some casual and full-time employees were also underpaid.
The underpayments were a result of systematic failures specific to Silver Chain’s WA operations. When changes were continually made to employees’ scheduled shifts, Silver Chain failed to adjust employees’ pay and entitlements accordingly.
The majority of underpayments resulted from Silver Chain failing to pay overtime entitlements that were payable because employees weren’t provided with the unpaid meal breaks they became entitled to as work schedules and shift durations changed.
Silver Chain also failed to provide paid tea breaks and unlawfully treated some gaps between client appointments as unpaid breaks when employees were required to be paid for these. The organisation also underpaid employees’ superannuation entitlements.
Silver Chain has back-paid over $17 million to more than 2,300 current and former employees, including superannuation and interest. Individual back-payments range from small amounts to over $50,000.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that an EU was appropriate because Silver Chain had cooperated and demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying underpayments.
“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Silver Chain has committed to implementing stringent measures to ensure workers are being paid correctly. These measures include engaging, at the company’s own cost, audits of its compliance with workplace laws over the next two years,” Ms Parker said.
“This matter demonstrates how important it is for employers to place a high priority on workplace compliance and ensure that their systems and processes support full compliance with Awards or agreements. In this matter, the limitations in how Silver Chain had set up its rostering system and its scheduling practices led to breaches of its enterprise agreements and a substantial backpayment bill.”
“Any employer who needs help meeting their lawful obligations to their employees should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.”
Under the EU, Silver Chain is also required to publish social media and website notices detailing its workplace law breaches, provide evidence of improvements made to its payroll and rostering systems and implement a staff education and training campaign.