Seemingly no end in sight to endemic wage theft
With the recent announcement that Woolworths underpaid its staff by $300m over the past nine years, there seems to be no end in sight to the endemic wage theft in Australian workplaces.
Woolworths joins 7/11, Subway, Domino’s, Caltex, the now defunct Foodora and in an extensive list of employers to face public scrutiny over wage theft.
The Australian attributed Woolworths’ underpayments to ‘non-unionised’ managerial staff on annualised salaries who were left worse off than junior staff covered by a collective agreement.
In the wake of the revelations, Woolworths’ chief executive Brad Banducci blamed the complexity of Australian workplace law.
“This is a very complex issue which needs an industry-level dialogue on it. At the right time, we'd like to come back and talk about the lack of flexibility in [awards] when interpreted literally,” he said in a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald.
IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary Brad Hayes said it was shameful for any employer to claim complexity as an excuse to short-change employees.
“Any employer would tell you the logistics of being in business are complex, but they are par for course and most employers are well-adept at navigating them,” Brad said.
“There is absolutely no excuse for employers failing to bring the same scrutiny to paying their staff correctly as they do to other operational matters.”
Australia's rate of wage theft was recently described by the peak international union body as among the worst in the world.
Brad said wage theft is costing employees billions of dollars in wages and superannuation that many will never get back.
“A recent report into Queensland’s workforce showed 18% of workers were not paid correctly,” Brad said.
“If these employees were underpaid by just 5%, it equates to $1.8 billion in lost wages in one year – in Queensland alone.”
Brad said it was clear the current system of regulation and enforcement of employee entitlements was woefully inadequate.
“Unions work hard to address wage underpayment on a case-by-case basis, but it’s clear there's a systemic problem and it’s time for governments and business to get serious about dealing with it,” Brad said.
“In a country as privileged as ours, it is unacceptable for any worker, and particularly lower-paid and vulnerable workers, to have their wages stolen.”
If you believe you may have been underpaid at work, contact our union for support and advice via firstname.lastname@example.org or 1800 177 937.