Nicole Miller is owed more than $6000 in superannuation from her former employer, PR agency Kreab Gavin Anderson.
Miller worked as an office manager at what was one of Australia's top communications operations until it went into voluntary administration on December 23 and now, like millions of other Australians who get underpaid their superannuation every year, fears she may never get her money.
The Cayman Islands registered company went under owing several former staff about $1.8 million in wages, super and leave entitlements. Administrator PKF was pulled in to deal with the mess.
The Australian arm of Swedish consultancy Kreab merged with New York's Gavin Anderson & Co in 2009.
It was under the management of Michael Morgan, a former Labor Party senior official, who worked on a number of high-profile campaigns, including the 2007 Kevin07 federal election campaign.
Morgan told Fairfax Media: "Now that the company is in liquidation and its assets have been realised, any outstanding entitlements will be paid to employees by the administrators as a priority. This has been communicated to former staff by the administrators."
Miller says the way Kreab management treated her and other staff complaining about their super consistently not being paid was disheartening, but worse still was the lax attitude of regulators.
"There were not any ramifications [when staff were consistently being underpaid]," she tells Fairfax Media.
"[Kreab management] was allowed to get away with it for such a long time, and there's no penalties or enforcement to protect employees."
The Kreab case highlights many of the concerning issues raised in submissions to the Senate inquiry into non-payment of the Superannuation Guarantee (SG), which in coming weeks will hand down its final report to the government.
Employers are by law required to pay the 9.5 per cent SG to any employee who earns more than $450 a month.
But as various submissions to the inquiry have noted, there's no visibility when superannuation isn't paid.
Employee payslips must only state amount due, not the amount paid.
So Miller, who worked at the company between April 2015 and October 2016, only discovered Kreab wasn't paying her super when she checked with her superannuation fund.
She made a complaint to Australian Taxation Office in mid 2015, which resulted in about $1200 worth of super being paid to her.
But soon after the underpayments continued. She says every time she was told the issue was being resolved. Eventually she realised it wasn't and left the company.
Miller says while she was working there she was also aware of creditors not being paid. She had to field calls from debt collectors demanding cash for overdue payments.
When she left she made a complaint to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission about the possibility of the company trading while insolvent, but ASIC said there were no grounds to investigate that claim.???
According to a PKF report to creditors on January 6, it is possible that "directors may have traded the company whilst insolvent".
But documents subsequently filed with ASIC on January 25 found that, "while the company was trading at a loss for a considerable period of time, payments made by the parent company appear to have enabled it to continue trading".
It found that directors could defend an insolvent trading claim on that basis.
"I didn't really get anywhere with ASIC or the ATO," Miller says.
"I feel like the ATO gave them a slap on the wrist and they just went back to doing what they were doing. The company knew they could get away with it."
Miller's written submission to the inquiry also details her frustration:
"I asked to the point of haranguing for my entitlements to be paid, however, they were ignored."
She says other staff who are also owed money had also made complaints, but the ATO has not told them how it plans to recover the money owed.
A number of other written submissions to the inquiry highlight other similarly disturbing cases, and raise questions about whether the ATO is doing enough.
Out of a workforce of more than 20,000, the ATO has 150 staff who deal with reports of SG non-compliance.
Each year the ATO receives about 20,000 reports from people who believe their employers haven't paid them their correct superannuation.
Many of the submissions to the inquiry suggest that waiting for workers to dob in their bosses isn't the right approach.
The ATO itself acknowledges that it relies on people coming forward most of the time (in more than 70 per cent of cases).
On the rare occasions when it does proactive audits, it results in higher amounts being recouped and repaid. It also means the agency is more likely to recover people's money before it's too late.
ATO Deputy Commissioner of superannuation James O'Halloran told the inquiry in late January that the incidence of insolvency from super guaranteed debt is much higher than the ATO rate for other taxes and, in many cases, by the time the company folds, no one gets their money.
"Fifty per cent of super guaranteed debt overall is, in fact, not able to be collected by us because the entity, if you like, has gone into insolvency," Mr O'Halloran said. "By definition, we are unable to pursue that, which causes a lot of frustration [to] employees."
For about five years from 2008 to 2013, Eric Brouwers worked for a sole trader who repeatedly underpaid him.
He contacted the ATO to make a formal complaint. The ATO investigated and established that the employer did owe about $12,700 in super payments.
"After three years of [the ATO] investigating I was told that they could not recover any of my money," he says.
"They refused to give me any reasons as to why, quoting the Privacy Act as the reason I was told nothing."
He says it's concerning that the "ATO apparently has no power to recover unpaid super from employers that have adequate means to pay".
"The ATO refuses to assist victims to further their journey to recover super, using unspecified 'privacy' blankets to avoid any scrutiny," Brouwers says.
"I would like to see the ATO have much stronger and timely powers to recover super from employers, maybe including suspending their ACN/ABN, until payment is received."
Another submission by now retiree Gary Garbett expresses frustration with the ATO process.
His submission names Simkara, International Stage Lines and National Buslines WA as owing him money.
The former directors of those companies, David Wright, Michael Finlan and Charles Marks, were in 2007 banned by ASIC from managing companies for five years.
According to an ASIC statement at the time, the directors were found to have "used company funds for investment interests outside of the companies' business, failed to pay statutory liabilities to the ATO and failed to maintain proper books and records".
Despite that, Garbett, who claims he was owed thousands in super by his former employer, says "unfortunately this type of penalty is of little comfort to the financially disadvantaged individual employees and suppliers".
The ATO acknowledged his previous employers failed to pay the compulsory SG contributions between February 28, 2001 and June 30 2004, but still hit him with with a $6644 personal Superannuation Excess Contribution Tax.
"It is currently too easy for company directors and mangers to place a company into either receivership or liquidation without any regard of the adverse financial consequences," he says.
Another submission by Nick Popovich also expresses frustration at the way the ATO handled his case.
"The ATO's response to non-payment of super, in my experience, was one of disinterest," Popovich says.
He says the culture among many employers that super is an "additional cost" needs to change.
"It needs to be seen as the same as any other wage component, like sick pay, holiday pay, overtime," he says.