4 November 2019

A week after Woolworths’ admission of a decade-long, $300 million wage rip-off, the company’s narrative that it was all an innocent mistake has begun to fall apart, with revelations that they (and their lawyers, Ashurst) spent months trying to prevent thousands of employees finding out they were owed tens of thousands of dollars. And more significantly, the Fair Work Ombudsman has admitted to a decade of incompetence: “It’s tipping us into the corporate regulator space and we have never been in that space before… the community is expecting us to be satisfied that the company is properly assessing the underpayments. They want us to (take) oversight (of) getting the money back, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. That actually requires a different set of skills in this agency and high-level legal expertise. Companies are coming to us with teams of lawyers. Negotiation skills need to be high and we need forensic ­accounting expertise.” This is a startling admission — since its establishment in 2009, the FWO has had no forensic accounting expertise, and it is now surprised that it is expected to enforce wage laws and ensure they aren’t breached in future? Those are its statutory functions! Everyone in the organisation should be sacked.