Casino giant Crown Resorts recovered goodwill payments of two weeks’ wages to staff who were stood down due to COVID-19 from taxpayers by claiming it back through the government’s JobKeeper scheme.
Crown’s agreement to pay full- and part-time employees for a fortnight after its Melbourne and Perth casinos were closed on March 23 was a rare piece of positive PR for the James Packer-backed group, which has been plunged into crisis this year by the NSW probity inquiry into its operations.
But the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has confirmed through multiple company sources that Crown quickly covered most of the cost of these “ex gratia” payments when it signed up to the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme weeks later.
Despite this, the company continued to trumpet the payments as a sign of the company’s support for its employees. Chief executive Ken Barton wrote in Crown’s annual report, released in September, that Crown had made “an ex gratia payment of two weeks’ pay” to workers, without revealing much of this was covered by JobKeeper.
The JobKeeper subsidy of $1500 per fortnight, which was backdated to March 1, is not likely to have covered the full cost of Crown’s payments to permanent staff given most of them earn more than that. Crown paid a lump sum of $1000 to some casual workers, but only “long-term” casual workers are eligible to receive JobKeeper payments.
A Crown spokeswoman declined to comment.
The union representing Crown’s gaming floor and hospitality workers, the United Workers Union, raised concerns with management that the pandemic payments was a commitment Crown made to its workforce and should not be subsidised by taxpayers, according to one source who requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters. However Crown stood by its decision.
The group employs about 18,500 people at its Melbourne and Perth casinos and 11,500 of those were stood down from work during the pandemic.
Crown received a total of $111 million in JobKeeper payments for the period from March to June 30 according to its annual report, with $68 million going directly to workers who were stood down and $43 million going to staff who continued to work full or part-time.
Crown also established a hardship fund during the year to make support payments to stood-down workers who were ineligible for JobKeeper, such as those who were not Australian citizens or permanent residents. And it made 14 days of paid leave available in March to any worker – including casuals – who missed work because they were infected with COVID-19 or needed to self isolate.
The casino giant has had a disastrous year, with the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) inquiry exposing its failures to prevent money laundering, the risks it took in China before 19 staff were arrested there in 2016, and major shareholder James Packer’s “deleterious” influence over corporate governance.
The ILGA this month blocked Crown from opening its new casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo until the inquiry’s commissioner Patricia Bergin delivers her recommendations on its suitability to hold a casino licence in the state.
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed this week that Crown has continued to employ the executive overseeing the construction of its Sydney casino, Todd Nisbet, despite its board being briefed on bullying allegations levelled against him.
The executive vice-president of strategy and development has been the subject of complaints to Crown’s human resources department after his intimidating behaviour left some staff in tears and prompted its former vice-president of design and construction, Lee Monfort, to resign.
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