Wage thieves to face parliamentary inquiry

Wage theft scandals sweeping Australia’s retail and hospitality sectors will come under close scrutiny during a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into worker rip-offs.

Labor senators on Wednesday referred wage and superannuation underpayments across all industries to the upper house’s economics committee.

The inquiry will look at the extent and effects of unlawful underpayment of workers and what can be done to tackle the issue.

The move comes after many examples of the pervasiveness of staff underpayments in the retail sector, with retailers such as Woolworths, Bunnings Warehouse, Super Retail Group, Dominos, Michael Hill, and MJ Bale admitting to having underpaid their workers in the last year.

In October, Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said businesses that engage in wage theft should be held accountable, and could see litigation where appropriate.

“Each week, another large company is publicly admitting that they failed to ensure staff are receiving their lawful entitlements. This simply is not good enough,” Parker said.

“Companies and their boards are on notice that we will consider the full range of enforcement options available under the Fair Work Act.”

Many business that admitted to the mistake put the blame on the modern award – with many payroll managers finding the awards, and the government laws governing them, difficult to parse.

“It is concerning that payroll managers – those who are involved in handling our pay, superannuation and leave entitlements – find the laws governing these things confusing and at times contradictory,” said Tracey Angwin, CEO of the Australian Payroll Association.

A poll of Inside Retail readers, however, found that many don’t believe the excuse. Over 58 per cent of survey respondents said they believed underpayments are more often intentional, and are a way to cut costs.

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