Resources: Blog

The cautionary tale of trolley collectors and supermarket supply chains


Once upon a trolley...

The plight of trolley collectors has been a focus of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for many years, and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission before that. In 2011, the FWO shifted its focus to the end users of the trolley collecting supply chain – big supermarkets.

The plight of trolley collectors has been a focus of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for many years, and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission before that.

In 2011, the FWO shifted its focus to the end users of the trolley collecting supply chain – big supermarkets. The FWO raised its supply chain concerns with Coles noting that Coles’ trolley collection contractor engaged its own subcontractors who, in turn, employed the trolley collectors. This meant that Coles was significantly removed from the employment practices of the subcontractors and the employment conditions of their employees.

A number of the subcontractors in the supply chain were subsequently found to have been significantly underpaying their employees. The FWO named Coles in a number of proceedings against the subcontractors, claiming that Coles was involved in the underpayments. Coles argued that its contractor was responsible for providing the trolley collecting services and for ensuring that subcontractors were complying with workplace laws. However, in an effort to make good, Coles agreed to enter into an enforceable undertaking with the FWO, which commenced in 2014.

An enforceable undertaking with the FWO is essentially a set of promises that an employer or business makes to take certain corrective actions and do particular things in the future to promote compliance with workplace laws. If a business fails to comply with the terms of an enforceable undertaking, the FWO can take legal action against the business.

As part of its enforceable undertaking, Coles committed to a range of actions, including bringing trolley collecting in-house, making payments to the underpaid trolley collectors employed by subcontractor (to the tune of $220,000) and reporting annually to the FWO on future underpayment claims.

Coles recently completed its second annual report under the enforceable undertaking. The report showed that 85% of Coles’ sites now engage trolley collectors directly employed by Coles and trolley collector underpayment claims have decreased.

Whilst the FWO has commended Coles for its efforts to stamp out exploitation in the trolley collecting industry, Coles still has more to do as the enforceable undertaking, and the ongoing actions required under it, will continue until 31 December 2018.

There are two important lessons to take away from the example set by Coles. The first is the value of enforceable undertakings in correcting missteps and avoiding prosecution by the FWO. If a FWO audit shows that a business has made mistakes in its employment practices, working cooperatively with the FWO can avoid litigation and can help to right any wrongs.

The second lesson is about the importance of carefully examining your business’ supply chain. Coles captured the FWO’s attention because its contracting processes failed to detect the potential for worker exploitation. Businesses should ensure that any contractor they work with complies with their obligations under workplaces laws and in turn, requires that their subcontractors do the same. If in doubt, look at keeping things in-house where you can control the payroll.


Similar articles

Court finds multiple breaches of general protections provisions

Direction needed

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Court) recently ruled on an application brought by an employee alleging that three respondents had engaged in breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act), including sham contracting and dismissing the employee because she was pregnant.


Workplace Relations Review

Cases and Legislation December 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission amended the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2020 in March 2020 to include temporary measures to facilitate working from home arrangements.


Workplace Relations Review

Cases and Legislation September 2020

The Queensland Government recently passed legislation amending the Criminal Code Act 1899 (the Code) to criminalise wage theft by employers in Queensland.‍The Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced to the Queensland Parliament in response to a Report released in 2018 by the Queensland Parliamentary Education, Employment and Small Business Committee following an inquiry into wage theft in Queensland. The Report identified critical issues in wage theft as well as deliberate action taken by employers to frustrate employees’ attempts to recover entitlements.


Commission orders employer to pay compensation as a result of its procedurally unfair disciplinary process

Procedurally disastrous

When investigating allegations of misconduct against an employee in the workplace, employers must ensure that any ensuing disciplinary process is kept distinct from and separate to from the investigation.


The importance of WHS refresher training

Not a “one and done” thing

It is an expected and necessary part of work health and safety (WHS) plans that all new workers receive relevant WHS training.


Casual Terms Award Review 2021


In March 2021, the casual employment amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) introduced a new statutory definition of “casual employee” and an entitlement to casual conversion as one of the National Employment Standards (NES).


Let's talk

please contact our directors to discuss how ouR expertise can help your business.

We're here to help

Contact Us
Let Workplace Law become your partner in Workplace Relations.

Signup to receive the latest industry updates with commentary from the Workplace Law team direct to you inbox.