Sunglass Hut is the latest major Australian retailer to be caught in an underpayment controversy, admitting to having underpaid 620 employees approximately $2.3 million.
Luxottica Retail Australia, who trade as Sunglass Hut, has avoided prosecution and will issue a formal letter of apology, repay the monies owed and make a $50,000 “contrition” payment, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“Sunglass Hut breached workplace laws and their conduct falls short of lawful obligations to their employees, and community expectations,” Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This matter highlights that if employers incorrectly apply award conditions, it can have extensive and expensive consequences across the business for years to come.”
It comes after celebrity chef George Calombaris was found to have underpaid more than 500 workers $7.8 million and jewellery chain Michael Hill who employ around 2000 workers underpaid staff by as much as $25 million.
Other big businesses who have been caught underpaying their staff include franchises such as 7-Eleven, Caltex, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
In light of the ongoing underpayment scandals, the Coalition has committed to criminalising wage theft, however small business owners fear that it may target those who make “honest mistakes” as a result.
Understanding the concerns of small business owners, the Senior Employment Relations Adviser at Employsure, Michael Wilkinson agrees with the complexity of the award system concept, as well as the varying pay rates depending on the day and time of week.
“There are more than 122 Awards in the Australia workplace relations system. Even small ones might have to comply with more than one award.
“Big companies with huge HR teams, still don’t get it right. How can we reasonably expect [small and medium enterprises] to?” Mr Wilkinson said.
Speaking to Sydney Morning Herald in July, the Fair Work Commission President, Iain Ross said that more simplification was needed in order to pay staff correctly.
“I do think we can do more to assist small business to meet their obligations and I agree with the proposition that most small business owners do try and do the right thing,” Mr Ross said.