Roughly 57,000 public servants underpaid $20m in super over a decade

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday December 6, 2019

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A taskforce has been set up to help sort out an error that has left thousands of public servants in the Northern Territory without millions of dollars worth of superannuation payments.

The Department of Corporate and Information Services has been underpaying and overpaying some staff for up to 10 years, according to commissioner for public employment Vicki Telfer.

More than $30 million is owed, consisting of $20 million in underpayments and $10 million in interest. Roughly 16,000 current and 41,000 former employees have been affected.

The stuff-up was noticed after the Australian Taxation Office published advice relating to rules for the application of superannuation guarantee to recreation leave loading, Telfer said.

“We apologise to our current and former staff who may be affected by either these under or over payments,” she said. “We are focussed on paying our employees their entitlements, and will pay the correct amount of superannuation, plus interest, for all affected current and former employees.”

Chief Executive Officer of the department, Kathleen Robinson, said the miscalculations had been caused by “misinterpretation of the legislation” and coding errors.

Underpayments relate to a range of entitlements including recreation leave loading, redundancy payments, eligible unpaid parental leave, and acting judges. Robinson said the unpaid amounts would be returned to staff, equating to roughly $350 per person, plus interest.

Employees with income exceeding more than $221,080 and some Members of the Legislative Assembly were overpaid. Only overpayments of more than $2000 and from the last three years would be recovered, Telfer said.

The remaining overpayments added up to about $6.5 million, affecting around 390 current and former employees.

Superannuation worth $36,000 has also been overpaid for 14 current MLAs.

A multiagency taskforce has been appointed to help clean up the mess, and ensure it doesn’t happen again, according to Robinson.

“The payroll system has been reprogrammed and additional processes introduced to ensure superannuation is paid correctly and on time,” she said.

“Work is also well underway to calculate the individual unpaid amounts, interest and overpaid amounts for affected staff. Affected people will be personally notified as soon as their details are validated and we expect this to occur over the next three months.”

Telfer said she would be chairing an executive level steering committee alongside the commissioner of superannuation and the DCIS deputy chief executive. The committee would oversee the remediation process and ensure superannuation entitlements are paid correctly.

It comes following revelations that youth workers in Adelaide had been owed more than a million dollars in back pay, which the state government has denied.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal heard staff at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre had not been taking their entitled breaks because they were expected to stay on duty to watch detainees during meal times.

As a result, three of the workers had been underpaid since October 2015, tribunal deputy president Stephen Lieschke found. He ordered they be compensated.

The workers told the tribunal meal times were high risk, as detainees could use their knives and forks as weapons.

However, the SA government denied the workers were underpaid due to their working arrangement. It said they were covered by recognised paid “crib breaks” every shift, which had no minimum time limit but were still recognised even if the worker was technically on duty.

The three workers were heard out of a group of 124 workers who had made similar claims. One of them had made more than 300 requests for overtime, but had been rejected every time.

Submissions on the amount of compensation will be heard in the future.

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