WHAT HAPPENED: Lockyer Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Paul Emmerson said serious questions needed to be asked about how Woolworths underpaid staff so much. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
WHAT HAPPENED: Lockyer Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Paul Emmerson said serious questions needed to be asked about how Woolworths underpaid staff so much. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

Local chamber concerned about impact of underpaid wages

WEDNESDAY'S revelation Woolworths had underpaid staff up to an estimated $300 million has sent shockwaves through the business community.

Lockyer Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Paul Emmerson said serious questions needed to be asked about how the mistake was made.

"You wonder how someone like Woolworths could get it wrong," Mr Emmerson said.

"They've got whole teams of people looking at awards, looking at enterprise bargaining agreements.

"If they can't get it right, how can anybody else get it right."

He said businesses in the Lockyer Valley had been growing ever more concerned by the increasing complexity of laws surrounding business and employment for some time.

"Everybody in all business has been concerned about that for a long time. This is probably just going to highlight it to have a look at it again," he said.

"In reality you look at all the legislation out there - not just EBAs or awards - it's really difficult for everybody to know what the whole lot is."

The solicitor and accountant said it would be very easy for a business to "despite their best endeavours" miss something, and end up in a similar situation to Woolworths.

The supermarket giant announced on Wednesday, it had underpaid nearly 6000 employees over the past nine years and would repay up to $300 million.

It said it had found the error during a review.

The revelation has sparked calls from business groups to simplify Australia's awards system.

But Paul Emmerson said simplification was a "double-edged sword".

"They certainly need to have a look at what's gone wrong in this case," he said.

"I think a lot of awards are too complex, and everybody gets lost in what's going on - and then you've got all the EBAs. 

"The trouble of simplifying it too much I see is then everybody gets paid on the same basis for turning up at work, and people aren't getting paid for productivity."

Mr Emmerson worried the complexity of the system was scaring people off starting their own business.

He said those starting out, or businesses already established and concerned they may have misunderstood the system could engage the services of an accountant or solicitor.

The Fairwork Commission also has resources available.


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