ACT News


Spanish embassy workers allege 'betrayal' over unpaid superannuation

A former Canberra embassy worker has spoken of her "betrayal" by her former employers, the Spanish government, which is accused of refusing to hand over years worth of superannuation payments.

Another former worker for the Spanish government in Australia says she has been left disabled by cancer but without vital disability cover because of the consulate's failure to pay her super.

The two women are now taking legal action against their former employer, looking to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid super, interest and penalties.

But the Spanish government has defended itself, claiming its two former employees were covered by their home country's social welfare system during the periods in question and their current claim was an attempt to "double-dip".

Lawyers for the two women, Maurice Blackburn, says the case is the latest example of foreign governments refusing to follow Australian workplace laws.

Canberra grandmother Esperanza Poveda had two stints as a secretary at the embassy of Spain in Canberra between 1986 and 1998, and from 2004 until 2014.


In 2012, she secured an order from the ATO for the embassy to pay her unpaid super for the second period she worked there, but she says her former bosses refused to pay her for her first stint.

Maurice Blackburn is claiming damages of $68,000, for Ms Poveda which includes $32,000 in unpaid superannuation for 1992-1998 and penalty interest.

Melbourne woman Miren Itziar Urbieta worked at Spain's consulate in the Victorian capital for 18 years until 2011 and says she was not any paid any superannuation at all.

According to her lawyers, the consulate's failure to pay her superannuation, left her ineligible for total and permanent disability cover through her VicSuper fund and she is battling tonsil cancer which has left her permanently disabled since 2015.

Ms Urbieta is seeking damages of $131,000 including $54,000 in unpaid superannuation, $62,000 in penalty interest, and $15,000 for the TPD benefit that she would have been entitled to if super payments had been made into her VicSuper account.

Ms Poveda told Fairfax that she "furious" at the Spanish government over its treatment of her and her colleague.

"I feel furious because they think they can do whatever they want, like they do in Spain, and they think they can do the same thing here," Ms Poveda said.

"I think its time for the Australian authorities to say that's enough and you have to obey the Australian law."

But a spokesman for the Spanish embassy indicated it would be defending the claims, saying the women were covered by the Spanish social security system during the period in question and were therefore not entitled to payments under the Australian system.

He also denied Maurice Blackburn's claim that the embassy had not engaged with the law firm.

"We have been in touch by phone and the decision coming from our government has been duly notified to the former employees," the spokesman said.

"The former employees opted expressly to be under the coverage of the Spanish social security.

"Their current claim implies a double dipping situation prohibited by law."

But Maurice Blackburn lawyer Josh Mennen dismissed the Spanish defence as "absurd".

"To suggest that an employee who resides and is domiciled in Australia is 'double dipping' by seeking their minimum superannuation contributions because they are said to have some cover under the Spanish social security system is absurd," Mr Mennen said.