The inquiry found it is Woolworths’ policy to require all visitors, including cleaners, to sign a visitors’ book, recording people in the store at any given time. The inquiry found that this requirement and enforcement of it is often ignored with respect to cleaning staff. No evidence was provided to the FWO of a particular contractor being penalised or questioned about breaching the visitors’ book protocol.
Cleaners often signed the visitors’ book with the principal contractor’s company name. Consequently, the inquiry found it difficult to identify the true employer of cleaning labour at a particular site, date and time.
Inconsistent use of the visitors’ books made it very difficult for the inquiry to verify the accuracy of contractor and sub-contractor records and contributed to the sense of an ‘invisible workforce’.
The FWO’s site visits also found that identification cards were not worn by the cleaning staff as required by Woolworths, and that this was not monitored. Woolworths was unable to provide copies of all the identification cards that should have been issued to all cleaners working in the stores visited by inspectors. Some cleaners advised inspectors that they worked in Woolworths stores without having completed the relevant induction as required. With no record of them working in the sites, cleaners were open to potential work health and safety risks and exploitation by subcontractors.
While identification cards are issued to cleaners after completing an induction, the inquiry found that Woolworths did not keep accurate records for all employees of subcontractors. The inquiry further found that temporary identification cards could simply be printed off by a sub-contractor and no records were kept of these either. This made it very easy for workers to enter Woolworths sites with no accurate records of them ever performing work.
Woolworths assess whether the subcontractors / cleaners are meeting their contract requirements (the specifications) on a monthly basis. However, it was clear during the inquiry that Woolworths were failing to check the wages and conditions of the cleaners at the same time. For instance, the principal contractors’ monitoring was primarily concerned with the cleanliness of the stores rather than compliance with Commonwealth workplace laws.
Contractor A, a subcontractor responsible for cleaning multiple Woolworths stores, provided records to the inquiry. These records contained calculations for a small number of employees who the employer admitted had been employed.
When the records were checked against the supermarket’s visitors’ book, they didn’t match and the inquiry found there were actually many more employees who had been underpaid. However, due to poor records and a lack of cooperation from some identifiable employees, the full quantum of underpayments could not be confirmed.