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Peregrine 'employer of the year' despite underpayment claims

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The company that owns SA convenience store chain On The Run has won Retail Employer of the Year, despite ongoing government ‘inquiries’ into its employment practices.

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Peregrine Corporation has been named 2016 Australian Retail Employer of the Year by the Australian Retailers’ Association, but the State Government says it is continuing to investigate claims reported in the media last year that the company had used its traineeship program to avoid paying staff fairly.

The win was announced this week, nine months after the ABC’s 7.30 program first aired allegations by former employees of the company that it had kept staff members on traineeships to avoid paying correct adult wages.

The report featured former employee Chris Norman, 23, who claimed he was made to undertake qualifications he didn’t need, and that were irrelevant to the job he was hired to do, allowing him to be paid at a rate lower than he would have otherwise been, receiving $15.30 an hour.

A State Government spokesperson told InDaily at the time that that it was “investigating concerns that have been raised”.

Peregrine Corporation threatened the ABC with legal action in the days following the report, accusing the broadcaster of misrepresenting its traineeships program and denying there was any investigation into the company’s employment practices.

But asked whether an investigation into the company’s employment practises was ongoing, a State Government spokesperson told InDaily in a statement yesterday: “The Department of State Development is enquiring into issues which have been raised and it is not appropriate to comment”.

Clarifying which “issues” the Government was concerned with, the spokesperson said the department “is enquiring into issues as reported in the media about On The Run”.

But Peregrine Corporation chief operations officer Michaela Webster said that the company has not received any correspondence from the State Government concerning the claims in several months.

“Following the ABC story in 2015, which was factually incorrect and amended online by the ABC, as expected we received some questions from the Department in 2016 as a result of the story,” Webster said in a statement to InDaily.

“These questions were answered four months ago.

“As at today’s date, we have not heard anything further.”

The ABC issued a correction to an earlier story concerning Peregrine’s traineeship program, to say that one former employee of the company who featured in a September 2015 episode of the 730 program, Glen Whale, “at most times earned wages in excess of what was stated during his interview, and exceeding $400 in some weeks depending on his hours”.

Webster said that Peregrine Corporation’s training program was regularly recognised for its quality, and was giving its employees new skills they otherwise would not have had.

“People are paid to be trained on the job whilst going to work every day and earning wages,” she said.

“When the training is complete, they receive a nationally recognised qualification and new skills they otherwise would not have had.

“Our record in regard to recognition for our training programme including from Government-related organisations speaks for itself.”

Webster declined to comment on any legal action.

A media release issued by the company announcing the award on Wednesday said it had been “recognised as a leading employer of choice within the retail sector and demonstrated a strong track record in staff training and education programs, internal communication, community support programs and corporate social responsibility”.

Australian Retailers’ Association executive director Russell Zimmerman was also quoted in the release, saying: “Peregrine is a worthy winner of the Frontline Retail Employer of the Year – their commitment to supporting its people and store owners, from head office to shop floor, is a fantastic example of what it takes to be a top employer”.

The Australian Retailers’ Association declined to comment today, but it is understood that the awards judging process is based on submissions from companies.

Other winners include global discount supermarket chain Aldi, which won 2016 eftpos Retailer of the Year; Wilson Retail, which won Independent Retailer of the Year, and Jacob Purtell Harris Scarfe, which won Industry Super Retail Employee of the Year.

Peregrine Corporation employs about 3300 people in South Australia.

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