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Woolworths faces charges for alleged $1m in unpaid leave

Regulation

More than 1,000 criminal charges have been levelled against the group under Victoria’s Long Service Leave Act.

By Philip King 9 minute read

Woolworths faces more than 1,000 criminal charges for allegedly failing to pay more than $1 million in long service leave to 1,235 former employees.

The charges, levelled against Woolworths Group and subsidiary Woolstar by Wage Inspectorate Victoria, carry maximum penalties of more than $10 million under the state’s Long Service Leave Act.

The act covers entitles most employees in Victoria to long-service leave who have worked continuously with one employer for at least seven years and includes seasonal and casual staff.

The Wage Inspectorate alleged that between 2018 and 2021, Woolworths Group contravened the act by failing to pay more than $960,000 in long service leave entitlements to 1,199 former employees and Woolstar failed to pay more than $45,000 in long service leave entitlements to 36 former employees.

The alleged underpayments ranging from $250 to over $12,000.

The commissioner of Wage Inspectorate Victoria, Robert Hortle, said long-service leave is a valued and longstanding workplace entitlement in the state.

“Victorians expect businesses with significant payroll resources to get this stuff right,” he said. “They’d be disappointed to see a household name facing underpayment allegations.”

“The amount of underpayment never tells the full story in long service leave matters. It's hard to put a value on the leave workers were initially denied. Time that could have been spent with family, travelling or just relaxing.”

A Woolworths spokesperson said since 2019 the group had undertaken an extensive review of its payroll systems and as a result, “discrete instances of potential non-compliance in relation to long-service leave were identified”.

“We self reported these matters to Wage Inspectorate Victoria in February 2022,” the spokesperson said.

“We have since made back payments or corrected leave balances to affected team members, including interest and superannuation.

“We have apologised to affected team members and strengthened our payroll systems to address the long service leave issues we identified.”

“As this matter is now before the Court, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

In addition to the matter against Woolworths and Woolstar, the Wage Inspectorate has cases against Optus, CommSec and BankWest before the court alleging breaches of Victoria’s long service leave laws.

In 2021, a Wage Inspectorate investigation found over 4,000 former Coles workers in Victoria were underpaid almost $700,000 in long service leave entitlements.

The Woolworths matter is listed for mention in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 6 September.

 

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Philip King

Philip King

AUTHOR

Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

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