Underpaying workers can easily be done by making honest mistakes, business experts say.
Underpaying workers can easily be done by making honest mistakes, business experts say.

Underpaid workers: ATO targets big business

A NUMBER of big businesses could find themselves in strife for underpaying employees, under a new Australian Tax Office crackdown.

The ATO is scrutinising PAYG and superannuation payments, as business experts warn the "problem is huge".

Since the introduction of single touch payroll on July 1 last year, companies must send

tax and superannuation data directly to the ATO every payday, to help keep a closer eye on employees and protect workers who have not been paid super.

But the underpayment of workers - highlighted in the wake of celebrity chef George Calombaris being fined $200,000 for underpaying his employees more than $7.8 million - was not an isolated situation.

George Calombaris’ wage scandal is not an isolate situation. Picture: ABC/7.30
George Calombaris’ wage scandal is not an isolate situation. Picture: ABC/7.30

Other big businesses recently caught out underpaying workers included Super Retail Group who owns Rebel Sport, Supercheap Auto and Macpac, the Commonwealth Bank, 7-Eleven convenience stores and menswear company MJ Bale.

The Australian Retailers Association's executive director Russell Zimmerman said the problem is widespread across many industries.

"In the retail industry there are six different levels of employee so you have actually got a level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6," he said.

"On top of that you have got age-based rates then you have got full-time, part-time and casual and on top of that you have Saturday and Sunday penalty rates."

He said this made it extremely difficult for employers.

"You have got to have your complete wits about you," Mr Zimmerman said.

"It won't be hard for a retailer to contravene what they are meant to be paying and I doubt they even realise."

 

The issue of wage underpayment is widespread across many industries, say experts.
The issue of wage underpayment is widespread across many industries, say experts.

The Council of Small Business of Australia's chief executive officer, Peter Strong, said it was "so complicated" for businesses to ensure they met all the correct employee payment requirements.

"The best way to manage this is to make it less complicated and that makes it easier for the regulator to catch the ones who deliberately make a mistake," he said.

"Normally the ones who make deliberate mistakes are harder to catch."

Recent changes to penalty rates have impacted workers who were paid double time for Sundays in 2017 and will only receive time-and-a-half in July 2020.

The reductions to these penalty rates are being altered annually over a four-year period from 2017 to 2020.

Recent changes to penalty rates have had an impact on workers.
Recent changes to penalty rates have had an impact on workers.

Mr Strong said employers should be able to quickly determine the wages they must pay workers without being bamboozled.

"In some of the hospitality awards at the moment it's impossible to understand," he said.

But ACTU secretary Sally McManus said "paying people fairly is not hard".

"The restaurant award is significantly less complex than food safety standards, so if a business is unable to correctly pay people it raises some questions about whether they're fit to be running a food business.

"Some of the worst cases of wage theft we have seen are large well-resourced companies who can afford specialist advice.

"It's clear that these companies have built wage theft into their business model and it's unfair that good business owners doing the right thing have to compete with them.

"The best way to make sure you're being paid correctly is to join your union so you have people in your corner who can make sure you're getting what you're owed for your work."

sophie.elsworth@news.com.au

@sophieelsworth



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