HUNTER workers missed out on an estimated $146 million in superannuation payments in just 12 months, according to new industry research.
Industry Super Australia have come up with region-by-region estimates of unpaid superannuation entitlements. The peak body’s researchers say employees in the Hunter have been short-changed $145.9 million in a year.
The national report calls for legislative action from the government, saying an increasing number of Australian workers who are eligible for the compulsory 9.5 per cent Superannuation Guarantee are not receiving the payment, amounting to a $5.9 billion gap in super entitlements over a year.
Industry Super Australia’s (ISA) estimates are based on a random and anonymous sample of two per cent of all personal tax and superannuation records returned to the Australian Taxation Office in the 2015 to 2016 financial year.
“It is based on the actual tax receipts for people, and all the superannuation they are paid,” ISA head of research Dr Nick Coates said.
“The data is very accurate but it’s not done very often, 2015 to 2016 is the most recent we have. So it shows what’s actually been paid and what should be paid, which we used to establish what the gap is nationally, and that’s been broken down into regions.”
ISA estimates that a third (33.4 per cent) of eligible employees in Australia had been underpaid super that year, a 1.4 per cent increase on estimates from the 2013 to 2014 financial year.
The report further divides its findings into state and regional estimates, which have been calculated using Census data in conjunction with the ATO files.
NSW was estimated to have the second highest proportion of underpaid workers: 34.5 per cent of workers compared to the Northern Territory’s 39 per cent.
Within NSW, the Hunter had the lowest estimate of the proportion of workers who had been underpaid super: 33.4 per cent of workers compared to the highest estimate, Norfolk Island’s 35.6 per cent.
Those who missed out on super in the Hunter were estimated to have been underpaid an average of $1,904 over the year. This is compared to workers living in Sydney’s inner-east who were estimated to have lost the most in the state: $2,183 over the year.
Dr Coates said the Hunter was in the “middle” range for the average amount lost per person per year in the state.
“Unfortunately, it’s the same story from state to state,” he said. “Underpayment of superannuation is a systematic problem, it’s the same thing in Tasmania, Victoria or NSW.”
The current report claims that workers under the age of 35, workers employed in blue collar jobs and workers who are part-time or casual and earn under $30,000 are the most likely to miss out on compulsory super payments.
“If you have a region with certain types of employment more susceptible to underpayment then you get hot spots,” Dr Coates said.
ISA is using the research to call for changes to superannuation legislation. In particular, the peak body is asking that laws force employers to pay an employee’s super at the same time as their salary.
Currently, employers do not have to pay super until the end of a financial quarter, which lasts four months. Dr Coates said this discrepancy was the “biggest contributor” to superannuation losses.
“Employers who hold onto super until the end of the quarter are more likely to forget and not pay it. Even if they do pay it the benefit of having held onto that money hasn’t gone to the worker because it hasn’t been sitting in their Superfund earning interest for them,” he said.
The report also called on the Australian Taxation Office to be more proactive in its investigations of breaches, and to distribute penalties more widely.
A spokesperson for the ATO said it took breaches of the Superannuation Guarantee “very seriously” and undertook 31,954 compliance cases in the 2017 to 2018 financial year, of which 59 per cent were a result of employee complaints and 41 per cent were initiated by the ATO.
She said in a third of cases financial penalties were handed down to employers on top of enforced superannuation payments. In 332 cases the penalty represented more money than the amount of super initially left unpaid by the employer.