National Retail Association calls for further education following underpayment issues

In the wake of the Super Retail Group underpayment announcement, the National Retail Association (NRA) has called for better education for both businesses and workers in understanding the complex retail award.

Super Retail Group, which owns retail stores such as Supercheap Auto, Ray’s, Macpac, Rebel and BCF admitted this morning that it had underpaid its staff engaged in opening new stores by as much as $7.9 million over the last eight years.

The news comes after Super Retail (SUL) posted a 26 per cent lift in full-year net profit to $128.3 million, with an increase in sales of 4.2 per cent to $2.57 billion,  discovering the underpayment after a new human resources executive began investigating the way the company paid additional overtime.

Dominique Lamb, NRA CEO said the Super Retail announcement followed an emerging pattern in the retail sector, highlighting the complex nature of the Retail Modern Award and the wide array of factors that could impact pay and entitlements.

“We note that Super Retail Group has identified this issue through internal checks, reported it to the Fair Work Ombudsman, and is putting in place a fund to pay affected workers,” Lamb said.

“This is what employees are entitled to expect of businesses that make mistakes.  And while this is a very large error, we trust that the regulators will see that business has been proactive in addressing it and will respond accordingly.”

The issue brings to light the need for better education for both businesses and workers in understanding their rights and responsibilities in the complicated Modern Retail Award environment.

A series of underpayment issues reported at food-retailing franchises have rocked the franchise sector of late.

Earlier this month, Inside Franchise Business reported compliance and underpayment issues at 14 out of 15 audited Degani Bakery and Caf_ outlets, resulting in more than $44,000 in recovered wages.

“One underpayment is one too many, and that’s why the NRA is a very strong advocate for greater education for employers, to ensure that honest mistakes are reduced, and also for employees so that the small number of unscrupulous employers have less ability to get away with unlawful treatment of their staff,” Lamb said.

“We are aware that many schools provide a basic education with respect to the necessity of having a tax file number, and some schools go so far as provide some education in workplace skills. However, we know of no formalised attempt to educate young people about their rights under the Fair Work system, even in formal traineeships and apprenticeships.

Lamb suggested that further education would not only deter deliberate wage theft, but also significantly reduce the risk of unintentional underpayment.

“The NRA believes we could significantly reduce both accidental underpayments and deliberate wage theft if our young people have a stronger understanding of their workplace rights, and the confidence to enforce them,” Lamb said.

“For this reason, we urge the relevant governments and agencies to consider options to ensure young people are better informed about their rights and how to ensure they receive fair payment for their work.”