Technology, answer to Australia’s massive wage theft problem

Photo by Everett Collection, Inc

Barely a day goes by without an Australian newspaper headlining underpayment of staff by a major corporation or celebrity employer. National corporations such as Woolworths, Coles, Target, Qantas, Commonwealth Bank and Bunnings have been caught out underpaying staff over many years and having to pay back millions of dollars plus interest.

Celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and George Colombaris have seen their restaurant businesses placed in the hands of receivers and exposed as serial underpayers. All this topped off by the CEO of Wesfarmers claiming that underpayment happens because “people make mistakes”!

He may be right, but it’s a pretty poor excuse for companies that should know better and a sad indictment of HR and employment practices in a country that prides itself on being IT savvy. Even more concerning is that auditors, government departments and trade unions have all failed to protect employees thus highlighting a system badly in need if overhaul.

Press reports have been asking if corporate underpayments happen by accident or are deliberate ‘wage theft’, but most fail to question whether staff incompetence or dependence on technology play a significant role. Payroll software is only as good as the data that is input – and that includes current pay rates, penalties, overtime hours, age and award requirements.

Even in cases where individual employment contracts have been negotiated, the chances of error when inputting the conditions into payroll and HR systems is an issue, exacerbated by the fact that employees themselves cannot keep track of, let alone understand all the nuances of their employment conditions.

All this becomes inconsequential when you have to take into account that Australia has many hundreds of complex national and state awards and workplace entitlements for every type of job. You almost have to be an actuary to make head or tail of the mess.

Fortunately, one enterprising software developer has been working tirelessly to bring a solution to market that may be the solution, not only for hapless employees but concerned employers as well – especially small to medium businesses that do not have dedicated HR staff on board.

Outflank Pay Tracker is one of those applications that when you see it you have ask yourself why somebody hadn’t thought of it about before now. But this is no overnight, fill a gap in the market, knee jerk solution – its developer, Jesse Sudich, has been working on it for seven long years.

His objectives are noble. Outflank started out as a budgeting tool for employees to accurately predict expected pay and produce an easy-to-read virtual payslip that can be compared to an actual payslip in order to prevent underpayments. But it has become so much more than that.

Sudich has meticulously entered many awards and entitlements making it easy and fast for users to check their pay, and a number of concerned employers are also using the platform to check if their own internal systems are accurate. It will only be a matter of time before trade unions and employee groups will be advocating Outflank to all their members, especially as the service is free to individual users.

However, before any good software becomes great, it needs to be utilised by large numbers and Sudich welcomes all input with regard to functionality and awards not already covered. For once, every employee in the country has a way to check they are being payed correctly and, no doubt, more underpayers and ‘wage thieves’ will be exposed.

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