The French multinational arms company Thales underpaid Australian workers by $5.4m over seven years. Some 240 Australian workers across five sites in Victoria and New South Wales have been affected.
Guardian Australia understands the underpayment was the result of a human resources bungle related to discrepancies between workers on individual contracts and those on a similar job classification on the collective agreement.
Thales Australia’s vice-president of strategy, Gary Dawson, said between September and November 2018 back payments, including superannuation and interest, were made to 240 current staff totalling $5.4m.
Thales employs 3,700 workers in Australia.
“We made it clear to the affected staff that this was an error that should not have occurred, we’re sorry it happened, and that, having discovered it, we are determined to fix it and ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” he said.
“We are now examining records for staff who have left the company to determine whether any payments are owing to former employees, with the process expected to be finalised by March.”
Employees working in middle management, administration, production, technical and engineering roles were affected. Some staff at the munitions operations at Benalla in Victoria and Mulwala in NSW were affected along with those at Bendigo involved in the Bushmaster and Hawkei army vehicles projects. Other workers at ship repair sites at Garden Island in Sydney and Newcastle were also underpaid.
The company identified the underpayment issue in the first half of 2018. It brought in Deloitte to go through its pay rolls and also informed relevant unions and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“For many employees, it’s come out of the blue, it’s a windfall,” a defence industry insider said.
Thales has attracted controversy in recent months over the federal government’s partial redaction of a report by the auditor general finding that Australia could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars had it gone to the United States to buy its new fleet of light protected army vehicles instead of buying 1,100 of Thales’s Hawkeis.
A spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman said it was making its own independent inquiries into the matter and the company has been assisting.
Labor’s workplace spokesman Brendan O’Connor said, “Labor is concerned about any underpayment of Australian workers, but we welcome the company’s actions to repay its workforce.”