The ABC has admitted it underpaid up to 2500 casual staff over the past six years and has commenced an urgent review in conjunction with the Fair Work Ombudsman and unions.
The concession comes weeks after the public broadcaster acknowledged it had underpaid a member of its Brisbane-based digital news network by $19,000 over three years.
In an email to staff on Thursday, chief people officer Rebekah Donaldson apologised and promised the ABC would remedy any confirmed under-payments as soon as possible.
“We recently identified that some casual employees have been underpaid,” Ms Donaldson said.
“A detailed review is underway to confirm how penalties, allowances and loadings should have been calculated and applied over the past six years to about 2500 ‘flat-rate’ casual staff.
“Current and former casual employees who might be affected are being notified and the ABC is reviewing its processes to address the issue for the future.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions accused the ABC of “systematic wage theft … from an organisation that should be a best-practice employer”.
The broadcaster’s admission comes as it battles a budget black hole that saw it record a loss of $71.2 million in 2017-18 – significantly worse than the $28.7 million loss it originally forecast, largely due to redundancy payouts.
However, the broadcaster also paid 157 executives a combined $2 million in bonuses in 2017-18, including one executive who received a $232,500 bonus. Former managing director Michelle Guthrie was also awarded a $70,000 pay rise.
The federal government hit the ABC with an $84 million funding freeze over three years in last year’s budget.
In her email, Ms Donaldson said the ABC had notified the Fair Work Ombudsman about the issue and was working with the FWO and the Community and Public Sector Union, “which brought the matter to the attention of management”.
“This error should not have occurred, and the ABC apologises to any casual employee who has been underpaid,” Ms Donaldson wrote.
“The ABC is actively working to remedy this for affected employees as soon as possible.”
Last month the broadcaster admitted it underpaid a member of its Brisbane-based digital news team by $19,000 over three years, after the CPSU complained on the employee’s behalf. The ABC pledged to undertake an extensive review of casual loadings, prompting Thursday’s announcement to staff.
Sinddy Ealy, ABC Section Secretary at the CPSU, said she expected the broadcaster to face a significant bill for under-payments.
“If there are 2500 people affected and one individual with three years of employment under their belt was $19,000, we’re anticipating the liability to be sizeable,” she said.
“It’s disappointing, given the ABC has repeatedly responded to our concerns by assuring us they are paying casuals correctly.
“Our priority right now is to make sure that casual ABC workers are paid any back-payments they are entitled to, and obviously to try to secure permanent jobs for some of these people, who have been working for the ABC for decades in some instances.”
Ms Ealy said she was not aware of any similar complaints raised by the union against SBS. She also said the ABC’s admission should serve as a caution to all employers about the risks of workforce casualisation.