Here we go again.
Now, it is the turn of the Super Retail Group (BCF, Rebel, Supercheap Auto and Macpac) to acknowledge wage underpayments to the tune of a further $8 million, adding to the $52 million uncovered last year.
Just this week, we have seen Coles, Target and now Super Retail admitting millions of dollars in underpayments going back up to a decade. And there will be more.
In many instances, these and other cases of systemic underpayments by some of Australia’s biggest companies have been uncovered as a result of requests sent by SDA in November last year to more than 100 retailers to audit their payrolls.
This is an epidemic, not only hurting hard working Australians but the reputation of the companies themselves.
It need never have happened.
Australia did not have a systemic wage theft problem when unions had the right to spot check company payrolls.
Successive coalition governments stripped unions of those rights and now we have an epidemic, getting worse by the day.
Unions were an effective “cop on the beat”, looking after the interests of employees as well as protecting the reputations and market value of corporate Australia.
Unions did this for nothing. It did not cost the government or the taxpayer a cent.
The Fair Work Ombudsman does not have the money or the resources and until now the government has not had the slightest inclination to ensure workers are paid what is legally theirs.
Instead, the government has expended massive resources imposing over the top penalties on unions for what in many cases are simple book-keeping errors. At the same time, it failed to intervene to protect penalty rates while employers used the award review process to cut wages.
While there may be a place for criminal penalties in serious cases, as proposed by the Morrison government, the focus should be on workers receiving their money speedily. Criminal proceedings would be expensive, protracted and do nothing to get workers back what they are legally owed in the short term.
A small claims jurisdiction for underpayments should be established immediately. It would be cheap, accessible and effective.
Prevention is better than cure.
The solution is staring the government in the face: restore union rights to spot check company payrolls.
It worked before and it would work again. It is cheap and it is effective.
If the government is fair dinkum it would act now.
Further information: Jim Middleton 0418 627 066