Woolworths has apologised after it had underpaid staff members as much as $300 million in wages over the past nine years.
The supermarket giant claimed it had discovered the underpayment and reported itself to the Fair Work Ombudsman following a review this year, started by the introduction of a new enterprise agreement with all employees in all of its supermarkets.
Woolies said it had only analysed two years worth of data, but admitted that the underpayments could go as far back as 2010.
At least 5,700 salaried team members not checkout and supermarket floor staff are affected.
Staff could be repaid between $200 million and $300 million in total.
A review would now expand to its Australian businesses including Big W.
“As a business we pride ourselves on putting our team first, and in this case we have let them down,” group chief executive Brad Banducci said in a statement.
“We unreservedly apologise. The highest priority for Woolworths Group right now is to address this issue, and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
As a result of the new enterprise agreement for its wage team members, the salaried staff members noticed that some who worked under them were being paid more than them.
“That made us alert that there could be, inadvertently, an issue here,” Mr Banducci said.
Woolworths began investigations with the help of consulting firm PwC and said the majority of the staff affected are current and former salaried department managers at store level.
Wages that have been identified as being underpaid in the two years between September 2017 and August 2019 will be paid back before Christmas.
However, retrieving and reviewing rosters, time and attendance, and payroll data across all businesses is expected to take at least until September 30.
Repayments will be made as soon as each year in the review is complete.
The discovery came after a number of retail networks and hospitality businesses failed to meet industry standards, including celebrity chef George Colombaris, who repaid workers $7.8 million.
“(We are) shocked that yet another large, publicly listed company has today admitted to breaching Australia’s workplace laws on a massive scale,’ Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a release.
“It is particularly concerning that many of these corporate have enterprise agreements in place that they negotiated but then failed to properly uphold the minimum standards.”