Hardware retailer Bunnings Warehouse has made headlines for “pooling worker hours” in a bid to keep staff in-store during peak periods, but despite the controversy, the retailer does not appear to have broken any laws.
The ABC has reported that Bunnings effectively sends workers home during quiet periods and banks their hours to be used during busier times, in a bid to average out hours over the rostering period.
While the practice makes sense from a business point of view — to ensure that high-customer volumes are met with high staff numbers and the opposite for quiet times — the reports suggest it has effectively allowed Bunnings to avoid paying overtime rates.
“Someone who is full-time only works half-time or less and those hours get banked against them, and it usually happens in the cooler months during autumn and winter,” Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan was quoted as saying.
“Then when Bunnings is busier in spring, in summer, the management comes to that worker and say ‘well you owe us these hours now’.”
But despite reported complaints from employees about the practice, it appears that Bunnings has not done anything wrong.
It appears that averaging employee hours is perfectly legal under the Fair Work Act. The only prohibition is on standing down workers altogether.
The Fair Work Ombudsman website states that workers can only be stood down as a result of factors beyond their control, such as industrial action, natural disaster or equipment failures.
“Employees can't be stood down just because there is not enough work.”
My Business has requested clarification from the Ombudsman on the matter.
Instead, it appears to be that the public airing of in-house matters is timed to coincide with negotiations over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).
That echoes a similar situation faced recently by Flight Centre, which actively defended allegations of wage underpayment and customer price gouging amid its own EBA negotiations.
Bunnings chief operating officer Debbie Poole said the process is not a new one, but that it is currently under review.
“The bank of hours system has been in place for quite some time and it does provide benefits for our team members as well as our customers,” said Ms Poole.
“We are currently reviewing the bank of hours system, including seeking feedback from our team members about the system and looking at alternatives or modifications that ensure our rostering processes benefit our team, customers and the business.”
She added: “Having committed and engaged team members is important for the success of our business and we seek to provide market leading entitlements that attract and reward the best team. This is a commitment that we take very seriously.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.