Unpaid superannuation stories highlight the importance of regular checks.

By Emily Sakzewski

Simply because an amount of superannuation is displayed on your pay slip each week does not mean your employer is actually depositing it.

This will be the case for about a third of Australian workers who are ripped off by employers that do not pay the required superannuation entitlements.

Research by Industry Super Australia and Cbus found employers dodging superannuation payments were pocketing $3.6 billion per year from 2.4 million workers.

The study highlighted medium-sized businesses as the least likely to pay their employees the appropriate superannuation.

The findings prompted workers to share on social media their experiences of employers withholding some or all of their superannuation entitlements, in some cases for years.

“My last boss ripped me off $8,600 then went into liquidation when they found out about it and sold the business. I got $480 from FEG [Fair Entitlements Guarantee] then paid 60 per cent tax on that,” Steven said.

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“I worked for [company name withheld] a while back. They didn’t pay into our super so mine lapsed, taking with it the insurance I needed when I had an accident at work,” Judith said

“I had a previous employer way back in 2001 that didn’t pay my super. I contacted the ATO and turns out he wasn’t paying super to any of his staff. They sorted it out, I got my super, the employer was fined. The ATO were very helpful,” Amber said.

“I had an employer in 2000 who just didn’t pay superannuation. I contacted the ATO and they couldn’t care for my little amount! Good luck others!” Kathy said.

Monitoring superannuation contributions may be a low priority for many — especially for young workers — but the ATO warns a failure to promptly report employers doing the wrong thing could leave workers short-changed.

As thousands of Australian found out the hard way, when it comes to chasing down unpaid super, time is of the essence.

‘Awkward’ experience made people ‘wary about coming to work’.

Nine years ago, Trisha (not her real name) worked as a chef for a childcare company.

It was a small business that was on the verge of expanding, but the director maintained a close-knit “family feel” within the workplace.

Trisha was friends with most of her co-workers, who she still keeps in contact with.

It was one co-worker — an older woman who had worked there for a long period — who alerted her to the possibility their boss was not doing the right thing.

“One day she showed me a letter from her superfund that said no contributions had been made to her account for four or six months,” Trisha said.

Word spread around the workplace about what had happened, and after checking their super, up to 30 staff members discovered their super entitlements were being withheld.

For Trisha, who had only worked there for two years and had much of her career ahead, the revelation was inconvenient — but for her co-worker who had worked there much longer and was nearing the age of retirement, the impact was dire.

“We had been working 10-, 11-hour shifts,” Trisha said.

“We were spending a lot of our time there and investing a lot into this business.”

After talking to management, her director blamed the oversight on a fired bookkeeper, who had been in charge of superannuation payments.

Trisha said beyond that, the director “gave no explanation and no apology”, and this made things awkward.

“The whole thing made people wary about coming to work,” she said.

Trisha said her experience with the ATO was great and she was able to recover about $2,000.

She said seeing the latest figures about workers being short changed rang true to her.

“I’m not surprised the hospitality industry was identified — I’ve worked in the industry for about 15 years, and you see it all the time — the dodgy underhand.”

She said the entire process had made her more vigilant.

“It definitely gives you a sense of self-reliance.”

‘They can liquidate the business and walk away’.

Nicholas French never saw a cent of the superannuation he earned from two years of working at an inner-city Perth cafe.

All 15 staff members were not paid their superannuation — most of them were part-time university students.

Nicholas only discovered he had been short-changed upon resigning, when he began chasing down annual leave pay and superannuation, a process he described as like getting “blood from a stone”.

The relationship with his boss was “fairly good”, but at the end of his employment he realised things were not going well.

“I was aware the business was struggling financially and he made it seem like he was doing everything he could to sort me out, look after me, get the money to me as soon as possible,” he said.

After several emails and constant promises of “next week”, Nicholas finally had enough and reported his employer to the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

“By the time I got onto the ATO to recover that money, the company had gone into liquidation and it couldn’t be recovered,” he said.

He was left about $10,000 short in withheld superannuation contributions after two years of employment, but he said the loss was much more.

“It’s a considerable amount. It may not be a lot to someone now, but when I retire, it could almost equate — with compounded interest — to a year’s worth of living expenses like $40,000 or more,” Nicholas said.

“That’s the kind of thing that stings a bit. It’s a hell of a lot of money when it all gets added up.”

Nicholas’ advice to those who might be wondering if they were being paid super or not was to check with their superannuation fund.

“Check the actual records, make sure the money has gone in because your pay slip can say one thing, but what they do is completely opposite,” he said.

“Super is one of those things that’s sort of, out of sight, out of mind, but now I would be very much checking it.

“I think people have to be quite cautious of employers, because I think people are led to believe that no matter what, they get the super. It’s compulsory, but what does compulsory mean?

“I think that question needs to be asked by lawmakers because people can do this and not be punished. They can liquidate the business and walk away.”

The clock is ticking to recover unpaid super.

There are a few steps an employee can take to check whether their employer is paying their superannuation entitlements.

The ATO suggests that workers first check with their employer and reminds employees with unpaid super to report their employer to the ATO.

An ATO spokesperson said they would not pursue unpaid super enquiries when the complaint is more than five years old.

This means that querying the non-payment with the employer or reporting the matter to the ATO cannot happen more than five years from when the super is withheld.

The main problem when it comes to recovering the debt, the ATO said, is when employees delay reporting the non-payments.

“This is due to difficulty establishing whether there is an outstanding entitlement for super, as employers are only required to keep employment records for five years,” the spokesperson said.

Once an employer has gone into liquidation it becomes more difficult to recover the “Superannuation Guarantee (SG) and the SG Charge” — that is, compulsory superannuation payments and a charge that comprises shortfall amounts, interest and an administration fee.

However the ATO can still recover some money by issuing the company director with a penalty notice, which makes them personally liable to pay the SG Charge debts and prioritises it above unsecured creditors.

For any Australians who are thinking about checking their super, or putting off confronting an employer, the ATO’s message is clear: there is no time to waste.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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