Casino Canberra has been accused of misusing the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme and bullying staff into taking paid annual leave.
The $1500 a fortnight payment is made to employers to subsidise staff wages and keep more people employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the United Workers Union (UWU) says the casino has leveraged the program into an “annual leave subsidy scheme”.
“Casino Canberra has made a direct choice to take advantage of workers’ confusion around their rights and what is allowed in the current climate, to try to catch them out,” UWU ACT State Secretary Lyndal Ryan said.
“The company has requested staff who are receiving JobKeeper to use up their annual leave whilst they pocket the JobKeeper payments. Staff were then contacted again and given another choice: take your annual leave or take leave on half-pay. No real choice at all.”
Casino Canberra categorically denies the bullying allegations, saying that employees with large leave balances were requested to take some annual leave, and most employees agreed to take some leave.
“Many have negotiated arrangements which suit them, to which the company has agreed,” it said.
“We have not demanded that anyone take leave, there is no bullying and no trickery. We are working very hard to ensure that all of our employees have jobs to come back to when we are allowed to reopen.”
The casino also disputes UWU’s assertion that the purpose of JobKeeper payment is to pass through to employees, calling it “fundamentally wrong”.
“It is very clear that the purpose is to support employers, which in turn obviously is beneficial to employees,” it said. “The wage subsidy for businesses is to ensure that they can retain staff and restart once restrictions are lifted.
“The alternative is that employees need to be terminated and will be on JobSeeker payments, which is the worst outcome for both the employee and the business.
“UWU still have not actually articulated to us exactly how they allege the funds have been misspent, according to the provisions specifically introduced by the Australian Government into the Fair Work Act, to assist small to medium-sized enterprises, despite several requests from us.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said businesses which do not pass on the full $1500 JobKeeper payment to employees would feel the full force of the law.
ACT Labor MLA Bec Cody says workers told her that they were told they had to take leave – at either full or half pay – and were not given an opportunity to think about how that might affect them.
Ms Cody says some employees estimated that they would be $2000 out-of-pocket because of the measures, but she did not have exact figures.
“Workers feel like they were bullied and harassed into taking leave, they felt that they did not have a choice. They did not feel that the casino offered them any support or even any opportunity to ask questions about why they were all of a sudden being told to take leave,” she said.
“This is about being bullied in the workplace, this is about workers not feeling that they have any rights at all”.
The Casino had not sat down with workers as of Thursday (11 June), Ms Cody said.
“The workers just want to have their side of things heard, they want to know they are being looked after in the workplace, that they have rights and they do have rights,” she said.
However, the Casino says there has been regular contact with employees throughout the entire process.
“There has been very regular contact with all employees by way of email updates and phone calls and as required in-person discussions,” it said.
“At all times, employees are aware of who to contact and how to contact them to ask any questions or voice any concerns.
“This is repeatedly encouraged and as many of our employees will attest to – when they do ask questions, answers are provided promptly and openly.”
The casino has 235 employees, 95 per cent of whom were stood down because of the pandemic. Of these, 186 were eligible for JobKeeper, the casino said.