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HEA owes tens of thousands in unpaid wages to former workers

Dec, 2021

In a response to a demand from the Australian Tax Office, the national not-for-profit Home Education Association has paid superannuation owed to former administrative officer, Tamara Kidd.

Ms Kidd began working for the HEA in March 2017, with her contract renegotiated and renewed by the committee in April 2018.

She and a co-worker continued working for the association while its assets and bank accounts were frozen during a messy and protracted legal battle in the NSW Supreme Court after an attempted hostile takeover of the association by a disgruntled group of members.

Ms Kidd was instructed by the Court to continue working until the case was resolved, which occurred following a mediated settlement between the plaintiffs and association’s insurance company in April 2019.

Because the association’s bank accounts were frozen, Ms Kidd and her co-worker were not remunerated for the hours they worked during this period.

Named as a defendant in the legal action, Ms Kidd was released from the court case on 6 September 2018 having agreed in consent orders, under duress, to the unauthorised and potentially unlawful alteration of the employment contract.

The changes made to the terms of the contract were limited in that they could only come into effect if the plaintiffs were named as the valid committee either by the Office of Fair Trading or the court. This did not occur, therefore the terms of the officers’ contracts as of April 2018 still stood as valid.

Ms Kidd, a homeschooling mother, suffered considerable financial hardship, including homelessness, due to the failure of the HEA to pay her for the work she was contracted to do between May 2018 and May 2019.  

According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions , “deliberate underpayment is wage theft,” and that “roughly one third of Australian workers are victims of wage theft each year.”

In December 2019, Ms Kidd’s legal representative advised the HEA that a continued failure to pay would constitute a breach of the consent orders entered into by one of the plaintiffs, Karen Chegwidden (current president). Although not enacted, her failure to cause the HEA to pay the amount listed would put her in legal peril as an individual. The HEA made a payment to each office worker, claiming it was all that was owed and reported to the membership that the matter was finalised.

However, the Australian Tax Office, in its review of Ms Kidd’s situation, determined that she had, in fact, earned what was stated in the original 2018 contract and was owed superannuation dating back to to the beginning of her contract with the association in March 2017. 

In repaying the full amount of superannuation owed as set out by the ATO, the HEA committee has in effect acknowledged the legitimacy of the Ms Kidd's claim, yet continues to refuse to pay her the outstanding unpaid wages.

Now an unemployed carer of her disabled aunt, Ms Kidd does not have the finances to pursue full payment through legal channels. Her health suffered considerably during 2018/2019 because of stress caused by unnecessary court action against her.

Ms Kidd reported that the impact had been "profound" on herself and her children. She said that during the year she was taken to court she needed to find additional work to cover the cost of rent and food for her children.

"I had to step out of my master’s degree because of the time required to assist the HEA lawyers at the same time as assignments were due," said Ms Kidd, lamenting the loss of future earning potential. "Due to court, I lost my income, and had to live off my hard-earned savings." Savings, she added, that were part of a long-term plan to build her own home and provide future security.

“I feel vindicated by the ATO’s decision to pursue my unpaid superannuation. The HEA owes me the rest of the money I earned that year,” said Ms Kidd.

Despite her rough treatment at the hands of this recalcitrant organisation, Ms Kidd added that it is her hope that the home education association will one day become the trusted support organisation for homeschooling families it used to be.   

There are questions the membership of the HEA needs to ask of its management committee, including why the outstanding debts to previous office workers were omitted in its financial statements for the past few years as they continue to represent a substantial financial liability for the association, and if this omission constitutes a misrepresentation of the organisation’s financial position, both to the membership and the NSW Office of Fair Trading.

As the 2022 AGM looms, it is time for the HEA to repair the damage, apologise to the volunteers and office workers wrongly claimed against in the NSW Supreme Court during 2018/19, and make amends by paying all outstanding debts to both past office workers.

see also:

Beverley Paine, HEA member 2003-2004, 2007-2018, regular volunteer, served on committee and various subcommittees, state chapter foundation member, newsletter editor, magazine editor and producer. She revoked her life membership after a hostile takeover of the association by a small group of members in 2018.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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