Issue 10, Semester 1
By Rosie Francis
About a month ago, my former employer and I *finally* resolved what ended up being quite a dragged out and frustrating dispute, which mainly concerned wage underpayments. The outcome of the dispute resulted from determination, perseverance and standing my ground against a woman who thought she could get away with it. Let’s get started.
During my late high school and early university years, I worked for a pharmacy franchise. It was a small pharmacy, with quite a small team. I really enjoyed working there, getting to know the locals and establishing good working relationships with the pharmacists and other staff. It was a good job for a uni student.
One drawback with working in this pharmacy was that my boss was tight on the purse strings. She would under-roster staff to save on money, which meant that we didn’t get breaks, because oftentimes it was up to you to man the entire store (bar the pharmacist in the dispensary). So, you scoff your lunch or dinner when you can, because that’s your only chance to refuel on what could be a 12-hour shift. You’re the checkout chick, the makeup and skincare advisor, the pharmacy assistant, the passport-photo-taker, the “restocker”, the cleaner, etc., all in one.
My boss would also roster younger, less experienced staff on to save costs. What she lost in sales she was making up in the few dollars she would save on paying wages.
She refused to pay us for time spent preparing for and concluding a shift. For a 5pm-9pm shift you would need to start at 5pm, which meant that your till would have to be counted before then, but you weren’t paid for that. When you closed, even if lagging customers and the general process took you to 9:30pm, you wouldn’t get paid for after 9pm. These extra few minutes of pay for three shifts a week started to add up pretty quickly.
Payslips were provided on an intermittent basis, and were often stored in unsealed envelopes in a drawer. The bookkeeper was the wife of one of the pharmacists. Qualified or not, she had no idea what she was doing.
So it wasn’t the greatest workplace. But I stuck with it because I thought that being employed somewhere long-term was attractive to future employers (turns out my current boss was impressed with this, so silver lining, I guess?).
As each year passed I felt like my wallet wasn’t getting any heavier, despite my age increasing, and the pharmacy award rates increasing with each year. I had issues with this, obviously. I checked the rates on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website, and my wages didn’t add up. A string of emails and phone calls and discussions with my boss and bookkeeper got me absolutely nowhere. I needed the money though, even if it wasn’t a lot, so I kept on working.
A couple of years later I was let go. I covered a (younger) staff member’s public holiday and Sunday shifts, and received a decent pay packet that week. Later, the staff received an email from my manager saying that I no longer worked at the pharmacy (news to me), threatening to cut back their shifts if they asked me to cover for them. I didn’t recall resigning or being dismissed, so I called my manager and basically asked what the eff was going on. His explanation: you are too expensive, you no longer work here. I had invested five whole years (four of which were under this particular employer) and that’s my send-off. Cool.
I got that email back in my first year of law school. It is now May, three years later, and I am now several thousands richer thanks to my tightass boss.
Following my “dismissal” email, I set out to recover my underpayments. I had to go back and try and work out every shift I had worked since mid-2012 to mid-2015, what I was paid and what I ought to have been paid.
Once I figured it all out, we sent letters of demand to the pharmacy, but heard nothing. I contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman and arranged a phone mediation. My boss wasn’t prepared, so it was a waste of everyone’s time, but we made arrangements to resolve the underpayments.
It was a long and painful process, but with the Ombudsman keeping a watchful eye I was confident that it would work out, and it did. I have received my outstanding wages and super contributions and have made the Ombudsman aware of this employer and her practices. I am currently encouraging others that I used to work with to check their payslips and bank records, in case something is awry with them as well.
If any of this rings true with you, definitely take the time and look into your own situation to see if everything stacks up. Noticing the smallest inconsistency might be all you need to uncover breaches of legal minimum conditions in your workplace. Plus, nothing quite compares to the satisfaction of exposing a dodgy boss and ending up with a pretty sweet outcome.
If you find yourself in a similar situation to the author, assistance is available.
Try talking to the good people at Jobwatch or the Young Workers Center if you would advice on your first steps toward getting some assistance.