Supermarket giant Coles is reportedly caught up in an underpayment scandal as the company is now expecting a $20 million hit after underpaying managers at its supermarket and liquor division over the past six years. According to international media reports, the company admitted to underpaying their staff and said that it was reviewing arrangements for staff who were paid a salary under the General Retail Industry Award (GRIA). The company further reported that so far they have found about five per cent of supermarket and liquor store managers who were not paid correctly.
Chief executive Steven Cain reportedly also apologised to affected staff and said that they would be contacted once the review was finalised. He further added that the company is working with a team of external experts to finalise the review and once completed, the staff, both current and former, will be contacted by the company to remediate any identified differences in full. Furthermore, the Fair Work Ombudsman will be conducting an investigation into the Coles Group.
According to international media reports, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter described the case as 'incredibly disappointing'. He also released a discussion paper which will look at the options to tackle worker underpayments. The paper also raised the prospect of adverse publicity orders which could further require an employer to display a notice admitting to underpaying workers.
The paper also suggests that the company directors could be disqualified from holding office and businesses that fail to prevent wage theft banned from hiring migrant workers. According to reports, Porter also noted that the vast majority of underpayments were not deliberate, however, he said that the issue was incredibly serious and bordered on negligence in the case of big companies that should be capable of following workplace law.
Back in October 2019, Coles' rival Woolswroths also reportedly underpaid its employees by as much as $300 million. The ABC, Qantas, Super Retail Group, Bunnings, Rockpool Dining Group and Sunglass Hut are also among the entities that have reportedly admitted wage underpayment recently.