Supermarket chain Coles, which has 10 stores in the Illawarra, said it has put measures in place to ensure its trolley collectors are not being exploited.
The issue has come to the fore in the wake of the Fair Work Ombudsman pushing shopping centres and supermarket chains to take care of what it classed as some of the country’s most vulnerable workers.
The ombudsman’s office said it has discovered cases of trolley workers being paid as little as $5 an hour.
The 2011 Census recorded that more than a third of the 1500 trolley collectors across the country is under 20 years old and 40per cent did not have an education beyond Year 10.
Additionally, 29 per cent of trolley collectors were born outside of Australia (most in a non-English speaking country) and anecdotal evidence suggests many have physical or other disabilities.
Currently, the Fair Work Ombudsman has four separate matters before the Courts alleging that collectively, 71 trolley collectors have been underpaid almost $485,000.
A spokeswoman from Coles said the chain had been changing its approach to trolley collection since 2012.
‘‘Coles has moved away from a traditional contracting model for trolley collection and now employs team members directly to collect our trolleys at more than 400 of our 750 stores,’’ the spokeswoman said.
‘‘We will bring the service completely in-house by early 2016.’’
She did not specify whether these 400-plus stores included any in the Illawarra.
Of the remainder, these were looked after by national company United Trolley Collections (UTC), which has entered into an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman to audit the pay packets of 10per cent of trolley collectors to ensure sub-contractors were paying them the proper rate.
The collection company also agreed to rectify any underpayment of wages once identified. ‘‘In addition,’’ the Coles spokeswoman said, ‘‘bank guarantee arrangements are in place with the sole contractor to secure against any risk of underpayments.’’
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James was pleased with the commitment by UTC. ‘‘It is heartening for us to work with companies which recognise the importance of workers in the supply chain receiving their lawful entitlements.’’