Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

The supermarket giant is only the latest wage thief

© Dan Himbrechts / AAP Image

It’s hard to express enough contempt for the bosses who have turned wage theft into “business as usual”, as the United Voice union for hospitality and other workers announced today ahead of a protest outside Sydney’s plush Rockpool Bar & Grill. Last week, the union took an official complaint – supported by an 8000-strong petition – to the Fair Work Ombudsman, calling on Rockpool to be prosecuted for one of the “most egregious cases of wage theft Australia has seen yet”. Theft is a criminal offence, but will anyone do jail time? Highly unlikely. Wage theft is losing its shock value after so many underpayment scandals, from 7-Eleven to Bunnings, George Calombaris to the ABC. But the fact that Woolworths, the bluest of blue-chip companies, could rip off 5700 employees by some $300 million over nine years still has the capacity to raise an eyebrow.

Woolworths self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman and said it was “deeply sorry” to employees today. Chief executive Brad Banducci told the ABC the buck stops with “me and the executive team”, but confirmed he did not intend to resign. He also mentioned that he had taken plans to the Woolworths board to cut bonuses for “the executive team” (see what he did there?).

In another bit of contradictory corporate-waffle, Banducci said, “Our salaried team store members have been paid in line with their contractual commitments, but we have not accurately paid them for some of the overtime hours that they’ve worked.” Go figure. Banducci simultaneously said there were “no excuses” and that underpayment of the retailer’s staff “was inadvertent”, which sounds like an excuse. In a statement, Woolworths promised to repay employees. The company’s shares are down a couple of per cent today, even though the quarterly sales result was strong. The headline on The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer column says it all [$]: “Woolies rips off the very staff behind sales surge”. Mind you, given the way Woolworths treats farmers and other suppliers – or gamblers on the thousands of poker machines it still has a stake in – none of this should be surprising.

Wesfarmers, Commonwealth Bank and Super Retail Group have all been in the same boat. They offer excuses when busted – inadvertent! honest mistake! payroll error! – but no thief ever gets to tell the coppers that. Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke today announced that Labor would move to establish a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into wage theft. “While Woolworths has today come forward and committed to paying its workers what they’re owed, it should not have taken this long to uncover these underpayments,” he said. “We also know that many employers don’t come clean. Others have tried to cover up their underpayments – or, worse yet, have deliberately used wage theft as part of their business model.”

As Guardian Australia reported in September, the industrial relations minister and attorney-general, Christian Porter, has put out a discussion paper proposing to “stamp out deliberate and systematic wage theft by Australian employers”, but said tough new penalties would not apply for “genuine mistakes”. The government also introduced a bill for a proposed amnesty for employers who failed to pay superannuation, which led to accusations the government was letting employers off the hook. It’s crazy. Wage theft not only hurts the ripped-off workers, it also hurts the economy, which today’s weak inflation figure confirms is yet to come out of the doldrums. Stagnant wages are a big part of the problem, so if the federal government wants economic recovery, the kid gloves with employers have to come off.

“Speaking our minds does not constitute interference in another country. That’s why we have used our current membership of the Human Rights Council to raise concern about … the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang in China.”

Speaking to the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney last night, the foreign minister called out a number of countries over human rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and China.

“The Palaszczuk Government is corrupt. The campaign caps are a rolled gold con designed to benefit the unions and GetUp. With this modern day gerrymander Annastacia Palaszczuk makes Sir Joh look like a novice. Queenslanders should be outraged at this corrupt Government.”

The home affairs minister has an over-the-top reaction to the Queensland Labor government’s Australian-first laws to limit election campaign spending and block large political donations.

Strip-searched in Newtown
As the number of police strip-searches rises in NSW, a law enforcement commission considers whether many of them are actually legal. Fiona McGregor on police powers and the trauma of being searched.

The amount of new funding that the federal government has given the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to unlock private investment in clean-energy production.

“Indigenous Australians from across Australia will have the opportunity to have their say on the development of an Indigenous voice to government … To lead the process, Minister Wyatt will establish a Senior Advisory Group to co-design options for a model that will ensure that Indigenous Australians are heard at all levels of government – local, state and federal … The Senior Advisory Group will be co-chaired by two prominent Indigenous leaders, Professor Tom Calma AO and Professor Marcia Langton AM.”

The minister for Indigenous Australians announces a new process to design an advisory body that is not the constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament envisaged in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The list

“There are few songs that feel necessary in the world, but ‘Took the Children Away’ is among them. A narrative of the Stolen Generations, of whom Roach is one, ‘Took the Children Away’ is a folk song in the deepest sense: it speaks with and of the marginalised and dispossessed, and gives voice to an experience that has rarely been acknowledged by the powerful.”

“Women battle a prevailing myth – which the research has proved to be false – that they lie about family violence to stop men seeing their children. This dangerous illusion serves only to push women underground as they struggle to be believed in a system that is meant to protect them and their children.”

“No Pentecostal quarantines their religion in a churchy quarter of their being, let alone one who has been a passionate believer since his teens and in his first speech to parliament acknowledged Brian Houston, the co-founder of Hillsong, as a mentor. The unsurprising truth is that an informed understanding of the PM’s political career is impossible without considering his religion.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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