Payroll fails: they can take years to fix

Until they are staff are owed millions

Superannuation used to be a problem for university payroll systems. Required contributions weren’t added to wages and allowances, because of system and process issues.

Lately there appear fewer cases to report, but in recent years Campus Morning Mail  (oh come on, you remember CMM) reported mistakes corrected at Swinburne U, La Trobe U and Uni Newcastle.

Uni Wollongong was a stand-out. Back in 2017, it announced its calculations were wrong for 30 per cent of staff over eight years. The make-good cost was $10m.

More recently, professional staff not being paid allowances (often for work out of hours) is an issue. Plus there are contentious cases of casual academics not receiving the rates for work specified in agreements.

Universities generally argue this is because admin staff misunderstand complex pay scales.  Critics are not so kind. The Fair Work Ombudsman refers to university budgets where, “where the work required to be done objectively requires more human work than budgeted.”

But whatever the cause, universities large (Uni Sydney) and small (Southern Cross U) all announce they are on to it.

So how’s that going, especially in cases where many people are owed money? In some cases, slowly.

Uni Sydney checked pay records for casual staff 2014-2020 and found nearly 3000, almost entirely professional staff, most casually employed, were underpaid $12.75m.

And last October the university started checking casual academic pay records to see if they were paid the required rates for work. The 2022 Annual Report records a provision of $15m.

Uni Melbourne, has also looked at its records. Its recently released annual report for 2022 advises $30.8m “was processed”  for former and current staff last financial year. There’s a further provision for $27.7m. 

Still, it could be worse – it is at UNSW.

There is a $92m provision in the ’22 consolidated accounts ($45m in 2021) which “includes the university’s best estimate of the expenditure required to meet the university’s obligations to current and former employees.”

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