21 July 2021

Good news/bad news: “A Melbourne magistrate said he was handcuffed by legal limitations from giving Coles the sentence he felt it deserved for underpaying staff. Coles Australia has been fined $50,000 for underpaying long service leave to more than 4000 Victorian employees in a landmark case. The supermarket giant, who pleaded guilty to seven charges on March 30, was sentenced in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. The court heard an audit revealed Coles failed to correctly pay 4096 Victorian employees their long service leave, totalling $697,016. On Wednesday magistrate Justin Foster slammed new long service leave legislation that prevented him from slapping the company with a bigger fine. He said the $50,000 did not reflect how serious the offending was and set a dangerous precedent for future cases.” While the magistrate is right about the low maximum penalty, this case is still a big step forward — at last, employers face criminal prosecution for ripping off their employees. The federal government’s Fair Work Ombudsman does not treat wage theft as a crime, but the new Victorian Wage Inspectorate is taking a tougher approach.