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Australia How millions of Australian workers are being ripped off by their bosses

22:26  27 october  2021
22:26  27 october  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Bosses are failing to pay superannuation, and it's a growing crisis costing workers billions of dollars.

Annie Wang was just 19 years old when, she says, her employer failed to pay her super.

He didn't pay $8,000 of her superannuation entitlements and she's still waiting to get back $3,000 of the money owed.

She only realised her super was missing because she checked whether her wages were being underpaid.

"I found out that the minimum wage for my age at that time was about $19 — I was [being] paid about $15," she says.

"But I was a university student, and I desperately needed a job."

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The underpayment went on for years, until Ms Wang, now 22, decided to fight back.

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Ms Wang took legal action and recently came to a confidential settlement.

"That's all the money that I worked for, that I didn't receive," she says. "I wouldn't want that to happen to anybody."

When you are low paid and low skilled, complaining about your boss isn't easy.

But, Ms Wang says, workers need to stop accepting exploitation.

"You might feel like you've got nowhere to go for help," she says. "But the more you are willing to talk about it and raise awareness, the more you're going to be able to find people willing to help you."

The missing $5 billion

Australia's $3 trillion superannuation system is supposed to deliver a comfortable retirement for millions of Australians.

It rests on employers doing the right thing. But many don't.

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Industry Super Australia data reveals that 2.9 million Australian employees missed out on $5 billion in employer super contributions in 2018–2019.

That means unpaid super affects more than a quarter of employees, costing each affected worker an average of $1,700 per year.

Like Ms Wang, it is often young workers — and those on low wages working in construction, transport, trades, hospitality and accommodation — who are most likely to be underpaid their super.

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And it's often small employers that are responsible.

Even when employees succeed through the legal system, it can be years before they receive their money, if at all.

The impact of that lost super compounds by the time they retire.

Ms Wang's unpaid $3,000 could be expected to have grown to $15,500 by the time she retires.

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And it's not just young people who get hurt by unpaid super.

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When employers don't pay into a fund, disability insurance cover can lapse.

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That's a lesson amputee Greg Hislop, 50, learned after it was too late.

Mr Hislop had been working as a head chef at a pub since 2018.

He was already in dispute with his boss about underpayment of wages but, soon after, things got worse.

In February, he contracted a life-threatening bacterial infection known as necrotising fasciitis.

That resulted in his leg being amputated below the knee to save his life.

Because Mr Hislop was classified as a casual employee, he had no sick pay nor annual leave.

Mr Hislop tried to make a claim for total and permanent disability (TPD) through his superannuation fund.

He was told the insurance cover had ceased because his employer had not been making contributions to his account.

Apart from being underpaid an estimated $20,000 in superannuation, he lost out on almost $60,000 of TPD cover.

"That's nearly a year's wage for some people," Mr Hislop says, noting he and his wife, Elizabeth, have been barely surviving on her part-time hospitality income.

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"I lost my wage. I lost my job," Mr Hislop continues.

"It also took away the future that we had planned.

"We were looking at buying a house. We had a deposit, but we've had to go through half of that just to survive.

"I thought, with the TPD and the money I was owed … I would have been able to cover myself and get back on my feet.

"Unfortunately, that's been taken away from us, for God knows what reason."

Mr Hislop's estimated $20,000 in unpaid super could have grown to $36,400 by the time he reached retirement age.

His daughter, Chloe, 22, also worked at the same pub and is also owed $6,500 in superannuation.

"I made the mistake of trusting my employer because the superannuation was on my pay slip," Ms Hislop says.

"But you really do need to check [with your super fund]. And, if it's not being paid, you need to ask the [employer] the question [why?].

"You need to be confident, not be scared."

Ms Hislop's unpaid super would compound to almost $34,000 by the time she retires.

Fear stops migrant workers from speaking out

Shinder Kaur says fear is the element that stops most migrant workers from speaking out about their unpaid super.

Ms Kaur previously worked on a temporary 457 visa as a chef and says her employer underpaid her wages as well as her superannuation.

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She complained to the Fair Work Ombudsman about the missing wages and got the money back.

However, Ms Kaur says, the Australian Taxation Office has told her it cannot recover $16,000 of her unpaid superannuation because the company the employer ran is no longer registered.

So, she is considering taking legal action against her employer personally.

She says he provided her with statements showing money had been transferred into her super account. However, when she checked with her fund, she was told no funds had been deposited.

"We came here for a bright future. We spend a lot of money … I think they [are] taking advantage from the migrant people," she says.

Ms Kaur says the financial and emotional toll on her family has been significant because it happened last year when COVID -19 lockdowns hit.

"My baby was really small. He was like, I think five to six months only," Ms Kaur explains.

"We don't know anyone here. No-one is here to help us … we don't have enough money in our accounts."

Ms Kaur is 39. Her $16,000 in unpaid super could amount to almost $44,000 by the time she retires.

She urges workers to check their superannuation with their super fund.

"I didn't check. Because I blindly, blindly believed my employer. I checked with him, he said he paid … the employers take advantage."

Workers win in court but still waiting for super

Margaret Joyce is 59 and close to retirement.

She worries she will have to rely on the aged pension to survive.

"It's been very stressful because I'm only a few years away from retirement," she says.

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"I definitely won't have enough to retire on."

Ms Joyce was working at a childcare centre in Lithgow.

She was unpaid almost $6,000 in superannuation.

Ms Joyce was one of several employees who chased down their super through the United Workers Union.

The union took the case to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

In June, the court declared that her employer, ECEC Management, had breached the Fair Work Act by failing to pay superannuation and providing misleading payslips to workers.

It handed down orders that the company must pay the workers involved more than $82,000 (including interest).

Then, in September, the court ordered ECEC Management to pay $60,000 in penalties.

However, Ms Joyce is still waiting for her money.

All the employers were contacted by ABC News for comment but did not respond.

Calls for jail time for employers who underpay workers

Industry Super Australia chief executive Bernie Dean wants an overhaul of the system.

Mr Dean says this needs to start with superannuation being paid into workers' super funds in sync with the day they are paid wages, so that people can more easily track their super.

Mr Dean also wants to see tougher enforcement of penalties for employers that "rip off" workers.

"There are penalties available, but we've seen a real reluctance by the government and by the tax office to flex any muscle," he says.

"This is a systemic problem."

The Australian Taxation Office's deputy commissioner of superannuation, Emma Rosenzweig, more conservatively estimates the amount of unpaid superannuation is $2.5 billion.

Ms Rosenzweig says that, over the past year, the ATO has hit employers with $240 million in penalties for not paying their workers' superannuation.

A previous amnesty offered to employers to come clean has resulted in more than $858 million in liabilities being identified as owing since March 2020.

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So far, $796 million of that has been paid and $62.3 million is under agreed payment plans.

However, the ATO's compliance action over the past year has not seen even one employer jailed.

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"We investigate every claim of unpaid super that is reported to us," Ms Rosenzweig says.

"We would encourage people to come forward to us as soon as they believe that they have not been paid their super contributions."

Ms Rosenzweig says the ATO tries to get back workers' unpaid super in cases of insolvency but, if a company no longer legally exists, "the ATO is constrained from taking any further action".

Federal Superannuation Minister Senator Jane Hume also points out that directors can be personally chased down through the courts.

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"The government has a zero tolerance [approach] to employers [who] don't pay the appropriate amount of superannuation to their employees," Senator Hume says.

"The ATO has the power to pursue directors personally rather than the company that's been de-registered."

However, shadow superannuation minister Stephen Jones says more needs to be done to chase down employers who break the law.

"Over a 10-year period, we're talking about numbers between $30 and $50 billion lost to workers' retirement savings accounts," Mr Jones says.

"The tax office needs to do much, much more.

"We also need to change the law to ensure that recovery of superannuation is treated the same as recovery of any other wages."

Ms Wang wants to see employers who deliberately and consistently underpay workers face jail time.

"It's not just the super that people are missing out on — it's the tax that could have been paid on top of that super that could have contributed back into the Australian economy," Ms Wang says.

"It's not just about one individual. It's about our country."

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OSHA vaccine mandate will protect workers, help economy: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh .
EXCLUSIVE: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Fox News Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 vaccine rule introduced Thursday will ensure "safe and healthy workplaces for millions of Americans."Walsh argued that the mandate will help, not hurt, the economy, and that it is a legal action by the administration.

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