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CouriersPlease shows just how widespread underpayment is

Parcel logistics provider CouriersPlease has joined the list of businesses that have underpaid workers, after inadvertently failing to pay for employees lunch breaks over eight years.

The retail industry has been rife with underpayment in 2019, with Michael Hill, Dominos, Bunnings, Woolworths, and Super Retail Group, among others, announcing staff underpayments in the last 12 months.

While many of these businesses pointed the finger at the complicated Modern Retail Award, CouriersPlease doesn’t pay its staff under the same award, instead utilising the Road Transport and Distribution Industry Award 2010.

The error shows that it isn’t necessarily the award at fault, nor are the recent surge in underpayments contained to the retail industry.

CouriersPlease chief executive Mark McGinley said the error occurred due to the amount of employees that shifted from ordinary hours to shift work during the eight-year span, complicating the payroll system.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the courier business underpaid 245 workers by $382,065 – with individual underpayments ranging between less than $10 to more than $19,000. 

CouriersPlease told Internet Retailing it has back-paid more than 95 per cent of affected employees, and is in the final stages of correspondence with those remaining to be paid.

“We have made back-payments to relevant shift workers currently under our employment [and] have also identified former relevant employees, and we are in the process of contacting them with the goal of completing their back-payments by the end of February,” McGinley said in a statement.

“This was an unintentional oversight which we deeply regret.”

CouriersPlease found the mistake during an internal audit after being prompted by an employee query in 2018, and voluntarily alerted the FWO of the mistake.

The parcel business agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking, committed to developing new systems to ensure future compliance, funding external audits over the next two years, and rectifying any further underpayments.

The FWO noted affected team members were spread across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

“This matter serves as a warning to all employers that if you don’t prioritise workplace compliance, you risk failing to meet your lawful obligations to your employees every shift they work over many years, and facing a hefty back-payment bill,” FWO Sandra Parker said. 

Self-disclosure no longer enough

Parker has previously said many businesses have been “sloppy” in their payroll practices, and that self-disclosure is no longer enough.

“We’re getting a lot more companies coming to us self-disclosing large underpayments, many of them going back many years,” Parker said.

“They had been previously saying to us that they’re trying to fix it and we should, therefore, leave them alone to get on with it.”

The FWO proposed court-enforceable undertakings as a minimum, as in the case of CouriersPlease, but pointed to litigation should businesses fail to meet the strict requirements.

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