Emirates Leisure Retail back-pays $5m+ and signs FWO undertaking

By Sarah Stowe | 22 Nov 2021 View comments

Emirates Leisure Retail (Australia) Pty Ltd has back-paid more than $5m to underpaid workers and signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Australian company, a subsidiary of the Emirates Group, operates a total of 39 restaurants, cafes and bars, many at airports. Brands in the portfolio include the franchise chain Hudson’s Coffee, as well as The Bistro by Wolfgang Puck, Coopers Alehouse, Glasshouse Bar and Aviation Pier Cafe & Bar.

Emirates Leisure Retail identified that 2381 current and former employees were underpaid $4,722,350, plus $450,119 in superannuation, between 2014 and 2019.

As at November 2021, the company has back-paid $5,016,474, including interest of 5.25 per cent and superannuation, to 1566 employees. The largest individual back-payment was $53,614.

The company has taken steps to make the remaining payments and the EU requires all employees to be back-paid by January 2022.

In October 2019 Emirates Leisure Retail self-reported payment issues to the Fair Work Ombudsman following initial concerns raised by an individual employee.

The company discovered it had underpaid overtime rates, paid employees engaged to serve liquor at licensed venues at incorrect classifications, and failed to comply with rostering requirements related to night-time and weekend work, each in breach of its Emirates Leisure Retail (Australia) Pty Ltd Enterprise Agreement 2010.

The classification errors also led to underpayments of annual leave and personal leave entitlements under the Fair Work Act’s National Employment Standards.

Full-time, part-time and casual employees were underpaid at venues located at airports, as well as at shopping centres, hospitals and other sites. Underpaid workers included food and beverage attendants and kitchen staff.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Mark Scully said Emirates Leisure Retail had demonstrated a firm commitment to rectifying all underpayments and changing its practices.

“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Emirates has committed to implementing stringent measures to improve compliance and protect the rights of its workforce. These measures include engaging, at the company’s own cost, an expert auditing firm to audit its compliance with workplace laws over the next three years,” Scully said.

The company’s co-operation in rectifying the breaches and its steps to ensure future compliance were relevant factors in determining a $150,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The company is also required to display media and website notices detailing its workplace law breaches, apologise to workers, commission workplace relations training for managerial staff, and commission an independent organisation to operate a Hotline for 12 months for employees.

“This matter demonstrates how important it is for employers to place a high priority on ensuring they understand and apply every legal entitlement when paying their employees,” said Scully.

“Businesses should conduct regular reviews of their payroll or they risk facing large-scale back-payment bills. Employers who need help meeting their obligations should contact the FWO for free advice and assistance,” he said.