This week an already impressive list of wage theft offenders has gotten a bit longer.
On Monday, the likes of Caltex, 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and Bunnings (to name a few), were joined by Coles, which underpaid its staff $20 million over six years.
On Wednesday, Target admitted to underpaying workers about $9 million.
On Thursday, Super Retail Group – whose brands include Rebel and Super Cheap Auto, said that it had short-changed workers by $8 million more than it had originally estimated, bringing the total to $61.2 million.
On Friday, cleaning and catering company Spotless admitted to underpaying workers $4 million.
The total wage theft uncovered this week: $94.2 million.
Earlier this year Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and myself supported a shareholder resolution filed by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which was heard at the Coles Annual General Meeting on 13 November 2019.
The resolution asking the supermarket to reassess its supply chain policies to reduce reliance on third-party audits, and to consult more with unions. At the meeting, workers from the supermarket’s farmer suppliers challenged Coles’ executives over its ethical sourcing policy, asking the retailer to work with unions to ensure workers are fairly treated and paid. The resolution was supported by 12.8 per cent of shareholders.
Coles recently signed memorandum of understanding with three major Australian unions as a sign of the retailer’s willingness to work with unions. Unfortunately this does not include the National Union of Workers (who recently merged with United Voice to form the United Workers Union). This is a missed opportunity for Coles to embrace Worker-Driven Social Responsibility.
The open letter to Coles and Woolworths was covered by the New Daily and the supermarkets have written a response to our letter. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), who have been engaging both supermarkets since 2017, have prepared a response to the supermarkets. You can find the response here:
Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and Martijn Boersma have supported a shareholder resolution by ACCR that will be heard at the Coles AGM on the 13th November 2019. You can help by calling on UniSuper to support the resolution. All you need to do is send them a message here. You can use the sample text below, copy and paste, or write your own.
When the Bill that became the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) was introduced into the federal parliament, it was accompanied by a grim message: two centuries after the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that there are twenty-five million victims of modern slavery worldwide. It also came with a bracing if Panglossian promise: that the Modern Slavery Act would ‘transform’ the way large companies in Australia do business, and drive a ‘race to the top’. Published a year after the introduction of this legislation, Addressing Modern Slavery is a timely reflection on the pervasiveness of modern slavery in global supply chains – and on the role of the state, business, and other actors in combating this serious and complex problem.
The Australian horticultural sector is one of the most at-risk industries for modern slavery.
A recent survey by the National Union of Workers among 650 workers found severe underpayments and withholding of wages, excessive overtime, retention of identity documents, threats of and actual physical and sexual violence, and coercive and excessive payments for transport and board.
A group of academics, experts in the area of labour and human rights, modern slavery, and supply chains, have initiated an open letter in which they ask Coles and Woolworths to address labour exploitation and the risk of modern slavery.
Australia’s Modern Slavery Act requires businesses to report yearly on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, the actions taken in response, and the effectiveness of these actions. The first reporting cycle started on July 1.
Unfortunately, although companies and consumers are increasingly aware that modern slavery exists, it is a phenomenon that is often dismissed or misunderstood.
He embodies a lot of what the Australian trade union movement stands for: vocal about worker’s rights, visible through industrial action, and intimidating when necessary.
He is the archetype of a union ‘thug’. A big bloke with tattoos who is part of a ‘militant’ trade union. Setka and the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union (CFMMEU) regularly push the boundaries of industrial action, incurring $15 million in fines since 2005.
A Senate inquiry has revealed that wage theft and underpayment are so prevalent in some industries that they have become the norm. Around 79% of hospitality employers in Victoria, for instance, did not comply with the national award wage system between 2013 and 2016.
Regulators and unions don’t have the resources to combat this issue, and so we need another method to tackle wage exploitation. One way is to introduce a multi-stakeholder certification scheme, using market forces to reward companies that have committed to fair working conditions and punish those that don’t.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are very much the flavour of the month. Widely regarded as instrumental in the next wave of economic growth, determining the ultimate recipe for innovation and entrepreneurial success is by many considered to be the holy grail. Indeed, we are all being encouraged to become like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other hero entrepreneurs that somehow went from eating macaroni and cheese in a garage or a campus dorm room every night, to becoming obscenely rich by inventing new things we now obsessively use or log into every day.