Fair Work investigates Solomon Lew’s Just Group over JobKeeper

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating Solomon Lew's Just Group.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating Solomon Lew's Just Group. Photo: TND

Retailer Just Group is being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman for potentially abusing the rules of JobKeeper.

The claims were first reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday and have been confirmed by the The New Daily.

In an email to TND, the Fair Work Ombudsman said it was investigating Just Group but it was inappropriate to comment further as the matter was ongoing.

Just Group is the company behind brands such as Peter Alexander, Smiggle, Just Jeans, Portmans and Jay Jays.

It is owned by ASX-listed retail conglomerate Premier Investments, which is chaired by billionaire retailer Solomon Lew and has claimed $68.7 million in global wage subsidies (including JobKeeper) despite reporting a 28.6 per cent increase in profit last financial year.

Although the Australian Taxation Office is the administrator of the JobKeeper scheme, the Fair Work Ombudsman is responsible for ensuring employers comply with the temporary JobKeeper provisions under the Fair Work Act.

These provisions give employers extra flexibility when using the scheme and cover matters such as stand down directions, amounts paid under JobKeeper, and the use of leave entitlements.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh wants the Standing Economics Committee to launch an inquiry into JobKeeper. Photo: AAP

The ombudsman has not revealed the details of the investigation, but the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association union, which represents retail, fast food and warehouse workers, has raised concerns over two matters relating to Just Group’s use of JobKeeper.

The first is about public holiday pay.

Fair Work states that, on public holidays, employers have to pay workers whatever is the higher amount out of the $1500 JobKeeper supplement and the worker’s usual rate of public holiday pay. But the SDA is concerned that Just Group has not always done this.

The second complaint is about running down leave entitlements.

In March 2020, before the federal government had announced the JobKeeper program, Just Group stood down 9000 employees globally in response to the economic disruption of COVID-19.

Many of those workers used their leave entitlements to stay afloat financially.

When the Morrison government announced the JobKeeper scheme on March 29, 2020, SDA asked Just Group to reinstate leave entitlements those employees had used.

Just Group said no.

Scott Morrison has described calls for an investigation into how companies used JobKeeper as the “politics of envy”. Photo: AAP

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said JobKeeper payments received for eligible employees should be applied lawfully and passed on to them.

“All employers should act within the letter and the spirit of the law. A number of companies have returned money received under JobKeeper. Just [Group] should be guided by good corporate behaviour,” Mr Dwyer told The New Daily.

“The SDA has been and continues to be engaged with employers to ensure the integrity of the program.”

However, the union has received no queries from workers about the ombudsman’s investigation.

The Fair Work Ombudsman states on its website that employees supported by JobKeeper before September 28 would “continue to accrue leave entitlements as if they had worked their normal hours”.

It also states that before September 28 employers could make agreements with eligible employees to take annual leave, including taking leave at half pay.

The first iteration of JobKeeper paid employers $1500 a fortnight for every worker they kept on their books and had no effect on workers’ leave entitlements.

The fortnightly rate has since fallen to $1000 for full-time workers and $650 for part-time staff. The scheme ends on March 28.

The New Daily approached Premier Investments for comment.

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