South East Queensland water supplier signs Enforceable Undertaking

Seqwater, South East Queensland’s water supplier, is back-paying staff more than $7 million and has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced an investigation into the Queensland Government statutory authority in 2020 following underpayment allegations through the media.

Seqwater advised the FWO that following feedback from industrial relations consultants, 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.

The regulator is ensuring Seqwater accurately calculates underpayments owed to workers. This work is 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.

Further underpayments are still being quantified and the EU requires Seqwater to back-pay all underpaid employees by February 2023.

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 backpay 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.”

The affected employees were engaged in a range of administrative, technical and professional roles, including as administration and project officers, technical specialists, scientists, engineers, maintenance coordinators and schedulers, field rangers, and dam operations and water treatment officers.

Under the EU, in addition to rectifying all underpayments, Seqwater is required to: engage an independent expert to review its underpayment rectification process and provide the report to FWO; publish media, social media, website and workplace notices detailing its workplace law breaches; operate a Hotline for employees to enquire about their wages and entitlements for 12 months; apologise to workers and unions; and provide evidence that it has developed systems and processes for ensuring compliance into the future.

Seqwater must also make a $545,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.

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