Underpayment of wages is now a full blown epidemic.
Today’s announcement from Target is a direct result of requests from the SDA last November that it and dozens of other firms in the retail sector audit their payrolls in light of Woolworths’ admission of underpayments to its staff.
Many companies like Target are constructively engaging the SDA in this industry wide audit but some are yet to do so.
Where are the powers to enforce lawful wages inside those companies that refuse to undertake a payroll audit?
The fact is that a decade ago there were few instances of systemic underpayment when unions had the right to conduct spot checks of company payrolls.
All the recent examples of underpayment have emerged since the coalition government changed the law.
It is all well and good for Workplace Relations Minister Christian Porter to threaten criminal penalties for wage theft, but as he admits that would set the bar very high.
We will only know that he and the Morrison government are fair dinkum about ending this epidemic if they restore the rights of unions to have ready access to company payrolls to conduct spot checks.
It worked before and it would work again.
This simple step would ensure hard working Australians are paid according to the law as well as avoiding embarrassment for the companies involved, damaging their brands, their reputation and their market value.
The Fair Work Ombudsman may have the right to conduct spot checks, but it clearly does not have the resources to halt this epidemic.
As Mr Porter notes it is not good enough for big companies with sophisticated accounting systems to claim complexity is the problem. They have no trouble calculating how little tax they should pay down to the cent. It should be just as easy for them to pay their workers what they have earned.
The SDA will continue to work with Target to ensure workers receive what they are owed in a timely fashion and to ensure this and other instances of underpayment in the retail and fast food sector are not repeated.
Further information: Jim Middleton 0418 627 066
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