One of Australia’s largest water distributors has confirmed it underpaid workers by $21.3 million over seven years.
Urban Utilities supplies drinking and recycled water and sewerage services to more than 1.6 million people in south-east Queensland.
Urban Utilities chief executive Paul Arnold said that while reviewing historical issues, the entity discovered it had “incorrectly” and “unintentionally” underpaid 1,525 of its former and current workers.
“The estimated overall value of the underpayments for our people and former employees is $21.3 million, plus any superannuation and interest owed for the period of 1 July 2015, to 30 June 2023,” he said in a statement.
The council-owned water distributor-retailer notified employees in August 2022 that it was investigating and working to resolve the underpayments.
“Our review has identified the issues were related to the complex interpretation of Enterprise Agreements, the award and employment contracts, and their application into rostering and time sheet-keeping processes, systems and practices,” Mr Arnold said.
He said the company had paid the affected employees the difference in pay, with interest added, and had begun working to pay former employees caught up in the bungle.
The Service Union’s secretary Neil Henderson said affected members were happy they were being back paid, but noted “it’s money they should’ve had all along”.
“We are certainly happy that Urban Utilities is putting some effort into identifying where the underpayments have occurred and to rectify them, but of course they shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” he said.
“We’re very sorry this has happened,” Mr Arnold said.
“To ensure transparency, we engaged an independent company to assist us in analysing historical data and calculating any differences in how we have paid our people versus their entitlements.”
Urban Utilities has self-reported the issue to the Fair Work Ombudsman and said it was providing regular updates to relevant unions.