Giant retailer ordered to repay workers

Salary dispute

Furniture, bedding and out door retailer Super AMart will reimburse almost 900 current and former staff more than $1.3 million after it was discovered it was underpaying its workers.

The Fair Work Ombudsman made the determination after an investigation triggered by an complaint from a former Super AMart employee.

The super store chain calculated it had underpaid 877 employees a total of $1.376 million between March, 2006 and March, 2010. The average back pay owed per employee is $1500.
Once employees have received back pay SuperAMart will conduct an audit to ensure no other staff member has been underpaid in its chain of 30 stores located in Queensland, NSW, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the underpayments were the result of change in staff hours without a change in pay rates. Most Super AMart stores required staff to begin work earlier than their rostered shift to prepare for store opening and stay back after their shift had finished but did not pay them for the extra time worked.

The company also failed to pay workers for attending staff meetings and information sessions outside their rostered shifts.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says employers cannot impose an obligation on staff to commence work prior to the start of their shift or attend work outside their shifts without paying them for time worked.

Super AMart’s has agreed to voluntarily rectify all outstanding entitlements and has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman as an alternative to litigation. Super AMart told the Fair Work Ombudsman the contraventions occurred because of a “breakdown in management communication”.

As part of its Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman, Super AMart will donate $120,000 to the Working Women’s Centre in Queensland to assist the Centre promote workplace relations compliance.

The company will also reimburse all underpaid staff in full within two months, write a letter of apology to all affected employees, conduct a paid meeting of all existing employees affected by the breach to explain the contravention, issue a memo to all employees, to be displayed in all stores and posted on the company’s website for 30 days, place an ad in The Australian apologising for the breach detailing steps taken to correct the breach, ensure all store managers attend workplace relations training courses and commission the preparation of a workplace relations compliance manual for distribution to all staff.

SuperA Mart will also report to the Fair Work Ombudsman at the end of the financial year for the next three years on the pay and conditions of its employees and report within 28 days the details of how it will implement systems and processes designed to ensure ongoing compliance with workplace laws.

Mr Wilson says the case highlights that a small mistake affecting a large workforce over an extended period of time can result in a hefty bill for back-payment of wages and that it is not just small businesses without human resources or industrial relations experience that can run into trouble.

He says the contravention points to the need for all employers, large and small, to constantly check they are meeting their obligations to their staff and the Fair Work Ombudsman is a good place to start.

In July last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with retail giant Cotton On after it was discovered that company had similarly failed to pay its staff for attending training sessions outside normal working hours.

Cotton On back-paid 3289 of its employees a total of $278,000, an average of about $84 for each staff member.

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