The past year has seen an extraordinary amount of significant wage-theft cases. The largest of which have come from some of the most well-known national businesses like Woolworths, the ABC and Commonwealth Bank. Notably, this past year has also exposed many national franchises like 7-eleven and Subway for their wage-theft-reliant business models.
With new wage-theft stories seemingly appearing every week, it can be difficult to keep up with the growing list of perpetrators, so we’ve compiled a list of business who operate in the ACT that were exposed for wage-theft in 2019.
Super Retail Group
Super Retail Group owns many well-known stores including Rebel Sport, Supercheap Auto, Ray’s Outdoors, Macpac and BCF. In 2018, Super Retail Group reported that they had identified $7.9 million in ‘accidental’ underpayments for that year. In 2019, it was revealed that the wage-theft had actually been occurring for the last 6 years, amounting in a massive $32 million stolen from their workers.
It’s difficult to get a complete picture of the wage-theft occurring at 7-Eleven. The instances of wage-theft that have been identified throughout 7-eleven stores have been systemic but still somewhat varying across different stores. Some have been caught paying their workers below the minimum wage and others using an illegal and exploitative cash back scheme to rip-off their employees.
The series of wage-theft scandals that have plagued 7-eleven have been ongoing for several years. A whistle-blower from the 7-eleven head office even described wage-theft as a “fundamental part of their business,” describing it as “something not much different from slavery.”
The ABC got caught up in a wage-theft scandal after the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) released its report into the underpayment of their casual workers. The CPSU’s report, ‘Anything But Casual’, identified $20 million in missing wages from 2500 of the ABC’s workers.
This came after a series of formal complaints had previously been made from both workers and their union about the pay discrepancies with no response.
Commonwealth Bank is currently still working on back paying their workers the $53.1 million it owes in unpaid entitlements. The wage-theft was identified in a review of their payroll and employee entitlements since 2017. The bank has said that they are expecting to have paid back the full amount by the end of this financial year.
Michael Hill Jeweller
Michael Hill came clean about their own wage-theft amidst many other high-profile wage-theft cases. Following a review of their employment practices, the jeweller was able to identify up to $25 million in stolen wages. Since going public about their wage-theft, they have said that they will be undertaking a more thorough review which could possibly bring up further issues.
Qantas has had a series of recent wage-theft scandals starting with their ‘volunteer program’ which asked head office employees to work for free over the Christmas period. Early 2019 also saw Qantas admitting to underpaying 55 of their workers an average of around $8,000 each. Most recently, the engineers’ union is taking action against Qantas for $325,000 in underpayment after they failed to progress aircraft maintenance engineers through the graded wage structure that had been negotiated in their enterprise agreement.
Following several employee complaints, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) lunched an investigation into the Subway franchises. They investigated 17 stores and found $81,638 in stolen wages. Their workers had been paid less than the minimum wage and had not received causal loading, holiday and overtime rates or payslips. Due to the systemic nature of Subway’s wage-theft it is likely that the FWO only identified a fraction of the stolen wages across all of their stores.
A select number of Coffee Club franchises were investigated after the FWO was tipped off by workers. They were found to have been paying flat rates less than the minimum wage, with no penalty rates, loadings or allowances. This is not the first time that Coffee Club has been embroiled in a wage-theft scandal. In 2017 they were found to be forcing employees to participate in an illegal cash back scheme.
Foodco owns well-known cafes Jamaica Blue and Muffin Break. An investigation into some of their cafes revealed that some staff were being underpaid and many had been asked to work for free. The issues occurred across several of their franchise locations. The total amount they were ordered to backpay was $26,000.
Multiple different Crust Pizza stores were exposed for their wage-theft in 2019. The form that the wage-theft took varied across different locations with some stores paying below the minimum wage, some failing to pay penalty rates and one even creating two separate wage rates for migrant and domestic workers. While not all Crust Pizza locations have been investigated, it is safe to say that their issues with wage-theft are systemic.
Sushi Bay’s Canberra store carries with it a history of dodgy employment practices. The owner and operator of the store had previously been cautioned in 2015 and this past year has been caught again paying below minimum wage rates and failing to pay casual loadings, penalty rates and leave entitlements.
Sunglass hut was recently ordered to pay back $2.3 million in underpaid overtime to both current and former employees. Over 620 workers were affected by the wage-theft incident with one even being owed over $40,000.
Another national franchise store caught up in the ongoing wage-theft scandals, Bunnings had been failing to pay their part-time employees the superannuation to which they were entitled. Although, they have been unwilling to publicly reveal the total amount which had been stolen from their employees’ super.
Wage-theft at woollies targeted their salaried workers who had been unpaid for the overtime they were working, including the penalty rates, loadings and allowances that are attached to overtime work for the last 9 years. Initial estimates suggested that the amount they owed their workers could be around $300 million although the Fair Work investigation is ongoing.
During the FWO’s surprise audit of several sushi vendors, Hero Sushi was found to have been paying below minimum wage as well as failing to pay casual loadings, penalty rates, overtime, clothing allowances, annual leave entitlements and superannuation. This included the Canberra location. The total was almost $700,000 in stolen wages.
Blue Sky Kids Land Pty Ltd
This kid’s clothing franchise was identified as paying below minimum wage rates and failing to provide payslips to their workers. During the FWO’s investigation the owners ordered the Canberra store to close before an audit could be conducted and deleted several timesheets which resulted in additional penalties. Despite this, they are still operating in NSW.
Most recently, Grill’d had their traineeship program exposed as exploitative and likely illegal as it had allowed franchises to pay their workers below award wages without offering the workers the required study time. Many workers and their union have spoken up about the ongoing issues at Grill’d but they are yet to address the issue.
Top Juice, Gami Chicken & Beer and GIO Stadium’s cleaning contracts were also audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2019 following complaints from staff but the findings are yet to be reported.
If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing wage-theft in your workplace, contact your union or the Young Workers Centre at email@example.com if you’re under 25.