Workers in retail and fast-food outlets, including Woolworths, Hungry Jack's and KFC, are being underpaid more than $300 million a year, in a national wages scandal centred on deals struck with the socially conservative Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA).
Fairfax Media has uncovered evidence that some of Australia's biggest employers are paying their employees less than the award in a longstanding and cosy partnership between big retail and fast-food employers and the union.
National secretary Gerard Dwyer now says the SDA is reviewing nearly 100 enterprise agreements in a bid to make them compliant with the Fair Work Act. He says a particular focus will be weekend and late-night penalties.
He concedes that workers will "inevitably" have to be paid more "either through higher penalty rates or even higher base rates of pay".
"If an employer does not agree to bargain, cancellation or termination of the agreement will be pursued," he said.
It now appears that most of the SDA agreements in retail and fast-food sectors allow pay and conditions significantly below the award, depriving low-paid workers of more than $1 billion in the last five years.
The shortfall is largely a result of low, or non-existent, night and weekend penalty rates. Many of the workers are low-paid and part time, earning just $10,000 to $20,000 annually.