Children’s charity accused of underpayments
A children's not-for-profit that receives $60 million in government grants a year is facing allegations of underpaying staff thousands of dollars in entitlements, while workers are also allegedly subjected to horrific assaults.
"Dozens and dozens" of youth workers at Safe Places for Children, which cares for some of the state's most at-risk and vulnerable children, have contacted The Services Union (TSU) concerned over their pay.
One employee, who clawed back around $20,000 in entitlements after taking the charity to the Fair Work Commission this year argued it was paying him below the wages safety net, while former employee Lee Wordsworth has contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman in an effort to reclaim over $64,000 he believes is owed over 16 months during his work for the company.
Employees are able to request a reconciliation on their pay under the Enterprise Agreement, but Mr Wordsworth said this was not openly communicated.
Workers have told The Courier-Mail that they work unsupervised caring for criminal children in a pressure cooker environment, often subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and have compared the work to being like "dealing with terrorists".
TSU secretary Neil Henderson said dozens of workers have come forward to report issues with their wages, but the union is repeatedly met with difficulty from the employer.
He said most employees should have been paid at least at a Level 2 pay grade, whereas most before July 2018 were on a Level 1.
"Staff were paid level 1 equivalent until 1 July 2018 at which point Safe Places recognised anyone who had a qualification and put them up to 2.2. Anyone without a certificate still gets paid level 1," he said.
"But there's still an argument whether that's (level 2) the appropriate level, because the way the award is struck it depends on the particular employee and what their duties are and what qualifications they have to do those duties so there are arguably still employees there that should have been paid level 3, maybe if not more at level 4.
"Quite significant litigation had to be undertaken to get them to what the bare minimum ought to be really."
He said workers not only face issues with their pay but also a dangerous environment.
"What we're being told is it is a dangerous workplace and anecdotally it seems that you're quite likely to be assaulted in your first several months of employment - not universally so but there's definitely a risk of it."
He said the union's West Australian branch is also dealing with pay issues with Safe Places for Children.
Mr Wordworth said the employer refuses to acknowledge workers should be paid as crisis assistance workers, with their framework detailing staff will receive three weeks' comprehensive induction training, including Therapeutic Crisis Intervention training (TCI).
A Safe Places for Children spokeswoman however said employees are not classified as crisis assistance workers and reconciliations are voluntarily undertaken for all youth workers under the EA on their anniversary date for the previous 12 months.
"We have communicated this openly to all our staff," she said.
"Safe Places has always paid our staff rates in accordance with our Enterprise Agreement and meets any directions of the Fair Work Commission. It also guarantees no disadvantage against the Award.
"Safe Places' Enterprise Agreement pays our workers rates that are above Award wages … Under our Agreement, all of our qualified youth workers are paid salaries equivalent to at least Level 2.2 of the Award."
Originally published as Children's charity accused of underpayments