Reports suggest some outsourced cleaning staff in Tasmania could be owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages – the new claims come weeks after Woolworths was forced to go on the defensive against allegations regarding the underpayment of trolley collectors contracted to Woolworths in New South Wales.
However, a Woolworths spokesperson has defended the supermarket’s practice regarding the new claims, stating, “Woolworths has worked with the Fair Work Ombudsman over many years to seek to eliminate exploitation of workers employed by contractors and subcontractors.
"We have invested significant resources in implementing processes to identify and address any workplace non-compliances by contractors in Woolworths' supply chain."
Woolworths have put in place a range of initiatives to guard against exploitation, and set up a helpline.
In the latest case, the Fair Work Ombudsman found that cleaners employed by Woolworths contractors and sub-contractors in Tasmania are owed more than $21,000.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James warned Woolworths and other large chains that they will face persecution for exploitation of workers in their supply chain – including contractors and sub-contractors.
James said, “Outsourcing is a legitimate business arrangement – but in my experience, in highly competitive markets for low-skilled work, it also increases the risk that workers will be underpaid, sometimes quite deliberately."
The court documents show the Fair Work Ombudsman is pursuing cleaning firm Pioneer Facility Services and subsidiary Pioneer Contracting Services, contracted by Woolworths to clean supermarkets throughout Australia. Also facing allegations is OzKorea, a former cleaning sub-contractor at four branches of Woolworths in Tasmania, and its director Sun Hun Gwang.
Inspectors found that OzKorea underpaid workers with alleged illegal flat rates of $14 per hour, while it is also alleged that Hwang falsified time sheets and wages figures provided to inspectors. OzKorea faces penalties of up to $54,000 for some contraventions, with Hwang facing penalties of between $5,400 and $10,800.
Woolworths will be forced to defend itself against more allegations from the Fair Work Ombudsman of exploitation of supermarket workers.