Super Retail Group, Coles, Wesfarmers underpaid staff: How can you protect your wages & super?

Senior News Journalist · 20 February 2020
Coles, some Wesfarmers businesses and the company that owns Rebel Sport have been revealed as the latest employers to underpay their staff over a period of several years. Employees missed out not only on their full wages, but superannuation payments too, making it all the more important for workers to check in on their super statements regularly.
Super Retail, Coles, Wesfarmers underpaid staff 20.02.20
Compiled by Canstar. Image source: Scott Kenneth Brodie, Daria Ni, Victor Wong & Catrin Haze (Shutterstock).

The revelations of another pay scandal affecting salaried staff came to light on Tuesday, when Coles announced it had underpaid managers of its supermarket and liquor divisions over a period of six years.

Coles revealed in its first-half retail earnings results that it had put aside $20 million to back-pay salaries, interest and costs for some 1,130 salaried staff, after an audit showed they weren’t being paid correctly under the general retail industry award.

Then, on Wednesday, Wesfarmers announced in its profit results that it had discovered $9 million in wage underpayments at department store Target, and an additional $15 million in its industrial and safety division, which includes workwear brands such as Hard Yakka and KingGee. That’s just months after the group revealed it had also underpaid staff at Bunnings.

This morning, Super Retail Group – the company behind Rebel Sport, Supercheap Auto and BCF – acknowledged it had added another $8 million on top of the $53.2 million it already owed workers who were underpaid, uncovered in 2019.

Employees of these businesses are not alone, with a long list of companies admitting to wage theft in recent months, including Woolworths, George Calombaris’ MAdE restaurant empire, Domino’s and the ABC.

Why it can pay to check your super balance regularly

Canstar money expert Effie Zahos said employees needed to be on the money if they suspected they weren’t being paid fairly, particularly where super was concerned.

“If you’re not getting paid right, chances are your super may not be up to scratch either,” Ms Zahos said.

“Even if your pay slip shows super is being paid into your account balance, it may be calculated on the wrong amount. And even though it says it’s paid, it may not have necessarily gone to your super fund.”

That’s because, by law, super contributions only have to be paid quarterly.

Industry Super Australia (ISA) found in September 2019 that about 2.85 million people were missing out on almost $6 billion in super due to the time lapse between wage payments (made weekly or fortnightly) and super payments (made quarterly).

The Morrison Government has since brought forward legislation that would allow a one-off amnesty for unpaid super with no penalty, with the idea being this would incentivise employers to pay any unpaid super in full.

The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and ISA both told a Senate committee in October they were against the proposed legislation, because it would create a situation where the government was “rewarding bad employers”.

What can I do to protect myself from wage theft?

Ms Zahos said changes to a number of industrial awards coming into effect from 1 March this year should go some way to helping ensure people are not being underpaid.

Under those rules, the Fair Work Ombudsman will require employers to keep better records of when people clock on and off at work, and also do an annual audit of pay reconciliations.

In the meantime, Ms Zahos said there were a few things consumers could do to protect themselves and make sure they’re not being underpaid:

  1. Check your pay with the free online pay calculator on Fair Work’s website.
  2. If you find out you’re not being paid correctly, it’s worth talking to some coworkers, because chances are some of them could be in the same boat.
  3. Then talk to your boss, and hopefully you’ll find it was an honest mistake and they will fix it, but if not, that’s when you really need to get help, such as by speaking to a lawyer or contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94 to lodge a complaint.

Employers could soon face fines and jail terms for underpaying staff

Legislation to criminalise the most serious forms of worker exploitation with fines and jail terms could be introduced in the coming weeks, after Attorney-General Christian Porter released a discussion paper on Tuesday.

“Like most Australians, the government has been appalled by the number of companies that have recently admitted short-changing their staff – in some cases by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Mr Porter said.

Union peak body the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said this policy would do little to end the systemic practice of wage theft, adding it was no coincidence that since unions’ rights to inspect records and conduct in workplaces had been limited, wage theft had “risen to a national crisis”.

“Workers need unions in their workplaces, inspecting pay records and holding employers to account, backed by laws which would impose meaningful penalties on employers who steal from workers,” the ACTU said in a statement on Tuesday.

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