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Food And Retail Company WHSmith Back-pays Employees $2.2 Million

Food and retail company WHSmith back-pays employees $2.2 million

A national food and retail company has back-paid workers $2.2 million after failing to provide them with all their entitlements.

WHSmith Australia Pty Ltd has also entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The background

WHSmith runs newsagency/bookstore and fast food/café stores in airports, hospital and also train stations.

They operate under a number of brands, for example:

  • WHSmith, Fresh+;
  • Wild Gifts & Cards;
  • Supanews, Gadgetshop;
  • Zoodle, Longshot; and
  • Immotion.

The underpayments

The company, which is owned by UK company WHSmith PLC, self-reported the underpayments to Fair Work following an internal audit.

The affected staff worked in stock control, customer service, food preparation and store management in retail and fast food outlets throughout Australia.

The most significant underpayments relate to a failure to pay full overtime entitlements to part-time employees and also salaried store managers.

Other entitlements also underpaid included:

  • a penalty rate payable when employees had less than 12 hours between shifts;
  • annual leave entitlements; and
  • a special clothing allowance.

The company also breached record keeping laws.

Food and retail company company back-pays employees

As at 1 October this year, WHSmith had identified and back-paid 1,511 current and former employees a total of $2.2 million.

In addition, the company paid interest and superannuation.

Individual back-payments range from $1 to over $117,000.

However, the company only rectified underpayments that happened over the statutory maximum of six-years – between 2013 and 2019.

It is possible the wage theft had been happening for a much longer period of time prior to 2013. 

The Enforceable Undertaking

The EU requires WHSmith to compensate all former employees it hasn’t located – within the next four months.

The company must also make a $50,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Fair Work says it reduced the size of the contrition payment because of the impact of the pandemic on WHSmith’s business.

The company must also:

  • display public, workplace and online notices detailing its workplace law breaches;
  • apologise to workers;
  • commission workplace relations training for managerial staff;
  • operate a Hotline for the next 12 months for employees; and
  • provide evidence to Fair Work that it has developed systems and processes to ensure future compliance of workplace laws.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker defended  the use of the EU, instead of commencing legal action against WHSmith.

She noted the company had cooperated with the investigation and demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying all underpayments.

“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, WHSmith has committed to implementing stringent measures to improve compliance and protect the rights of its workforce.

“This includes engaging, at its own cost, an expert auditing firm to assess the outcomes of its rectification program and audit its compliance with workplace laws over the next three years.

“This matter serves as a warning to all employers that if you don’t prioritise workplace compliance, you risk underpaying staff on a large scale.”

Please call our specialist team at Fair Work Claims today on

1300 324 748

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Fair Work Claims is part of the Supportah Network.

We are a private consultancy and advocacy firm with no affiliation to any government agency, commission or tribunal.

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