Earlier this week, Woolworths made international headlines after it emerged the supermarket giant had underpaid nearly 6000 employees over the past nine years, with repayments expecting to cost up to $300 million.
Today, The Australian revealed several huge firms, including Super Retail Group, Qantas, ABC, Thales, Wesfarmers and Bunnings, had self-reported to Fair Work Australia after discovering underpayments of wages, super and other entitlements to employees over almost a decade.
And earlier this year the wage theft scandal also engulfed celebrity chefs, including George Calombaris and Neil Perry.
So why does it keep happening? And more importantly, how can you find out if you’ve been ripped off at work, and how can you get your hands on your cash if you have been a victim?
Andrew Jewell, principal lawyer at leading employment law firm McDonald Murholme, told news.com.au information regarding minimum wages and penalties could be found on the Fair Work Commission website.
However, because the documents are often technical and confusing, the Fair Work Ombudsman is also available to help everyday workers determine appropriate rates.
But Mr Jewell said the first step for employees was to ask their boss four critical questions.
“Employees should ask their employer about what modern award covers their employment, whether there is an enterprise agreement, at what level they are employed and whether they receive penalty rates or a rolled-up salary,” he said.
“If the employee has any reason to doubt they are being paid the appropriate rates they should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or an employment lawyer.”
If underpayments are discovered, Mr Jewell said employees should speak to their boss directly as soon as possible, as it may be a simple case of rectification.
“If the employer refuses to rectify the issue, or if an employee is concerned they will be treated poorly for raising the issue, they can make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman or seek advice about options, which include commencing legal proceedings,” he said.
Mr Jewell said there was “no excuse” for the chronic ripping off of workers in this country.
“The innocent explanation is that awards are complicated and sometimes an employer believes they are doing the right thing, but there are actually underpayments,” he said.
“However, for an employer the size of Woolworths, and with free resources such as the Fair Work Ombudsman, there is no real excuse for not knowing the proper rates.
“Unfortunately, some business don’t have the appropriate processes in place to ensure the appropriate payments are made, which means even relatively small underpayments can add up significantly over time, or they have a culture of avoidance which can lead to serious consequences for the business and employees involved.”
According to The Australian , “scores of major companies” may have to back-pay wages and super to workers as a result of audits of their payroll systems that were launched after the introduction of the digital Single Touch Payroll (STP) reporting system.
It came into effect for large companies last July and smaller ones this July and requires employers to electronically send payroll information to the ATO at the same time as their regular pay run.
Many companies caught up in the wages debacle have discovered underpayments dating back to the 2010 launch of the modern awards system.
Meanwhile, Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said there had been an “upsurge” in large firms admitting they did not classify staff correctly, pay overtime or penalty rates or complete annual pay reconciliations where they were required.
“Lately, we are seeing a disturbing number of large corporates publicly admitting that they have underpaid their staff. Some of these matters go back many years and several comprise millions of dollars owed to workers. This is simply not good enough,” Ms Parker said.
“It is particularly concerning that many of these corporates have enterprise agreements in place that they negotiated but then failed to properly uphold the minimum standards. These sorts of careless missteps by business can be costly, often running up into the millions of dollars across an entire workforce.”
She said the scandal was often caused by “ineffective governance” along with “complacency and carelessness” toward employee entitlements.
Employers and workers are encouraged to contact Fair Work for free workplace advice as well as a wage calculator to help you find out if you have been underpaid.
There is also a portal to help you find your award and to report breaches.
Reference: ‘Qantas, Bunnings and Super Retail Group among companies caught in underpayment scandal‘, news.com.au, Friday 1st November 2019.