Woolies will repay up to $300 million. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Woolies will repay up to $300 million. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Woolies worker says he’s owed up to $30K

A former Woolworths manager says he's owed up to $30,000 after details emerged yesterday of a massive underpayment scandal affecting nearly 6000 employees over the past nine years and costing up to $300 million.

Cameron Baker worked at a Melbourne store for more than five years and was one of many salaried team members who realised there was something wrong when staff working under him were being paid more.

The creation of a new enterprise agreement (EA) earlier in the year for wage staff members alerted the supermarket to the massive irregularities in payments.

This triggered an investigation by Woolworths, which said on Wednesday it had only analysed two years of data but admitted the underpayment could date back as far as 2010. At least 5700 staff could be repaid between $200 million and $300 million in total.

Mr Baker told A Current Affair he was underpaid "anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000".

"Basically, some of my team members were earning more than I had the ability to earn on a salary," he said.

"If I had been on the enterprise agreement as of January 14 I could have been earning, roughly, $80,000 a year.

"But my salary was $67,000."

Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci told reporters yesterday the imbalance in payments, such as for Mr Baker and staff working under him, made the company realise there was an issue.

"We then convened a team to look at that issue and look at it holistically across all of the salaried team members who worked in Woolworths supermarkets," he said.

"We had to extract all the files for the last two years, and it has taken us a long time to analyse this."

 

Cameron Baker says he's owed up to $30,0000.
Cameron Baker says he's owed up to $30,0000.

 

With the help of consulting firm PwC, Woolworths investigated the irregularities of salaried store members compared with team members paid under the new agreement.

It said the majority of the staff affected were current and former salaried department managers at store level, with none of the 145,000 people covered by an enterprise agreement affected. Those wages that have been identified as being underpaid in the two years between September 2017 to August 2019 will be paid back before Christmas, Woolworths has promised.

But the company said retrieving and reviewing rostering, time and attendance, and payroll data across all businesses is expected to take at least until September 30 to complete.

Woolworths has vowed to repay employees and former employees as soon as each respective year of the review is completed and said in a statement it was "deeply sorry".

"As a business, we pride ourselves on putting our team first, and in this case we have let them down," Mr Banducci said.

"We unreservedly apologise. The highest priority for Woolworths Group right now is to address this issue and to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

But Mr Baker said the contrition was too little, too late.

"The apology today by the CEO and the statement doesn't really cut it," he told the television program on Wednesday night.

 

 

The scandal comes after a number of high-profile retail networks and hospitality businesses failed to meet industry standards.

These include Neil Perry's Rockpool Dining Group, which owes staff at least $10 million, and fellow celebrity chef George Calombaris, who repaid workers $7.8 million, with the Fair Work Ombudsman expressing frustration at adding another major company to the list.

"(We are) shocked that yet another large, publicly listed company has today admitted to breaching Australia's workplace laws on a massive scale," the Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a release.

"It is particularly concerning that many of these corporates have enterprise agreements in place that they negotiated but then failed to properly uphold the minimum standards."

Woolworths has self-reported the matter to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The major payments breach should be a wake-up call for the industry, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) said.

"The SDA has been concerned about salary settings for salaried staff in the retail industry for some time," the union's spokesperson said this morning.

"While Woolworths has committed to rectifying these salary staff underpayments back to 2010, the SDA now calls on all retailers to audit their payroll settings especially for salary staff."

Woolworths said it had communicated with staff members about the issue and had created a dedicated website for former employees who were unaware they had been underpaid. That website is team.woolworths.com.au.

The company has also set up an internal website for current staff members who have queries.

Are you surprised by the number of high-profile payment irregularities this year? Comment below @James_P_Hall | or get in touch at james.hall1@news.com.au