Exclusive: Cotton On worker repeatedly denied JobKeeper for months

Cotton On, Manly, Sydney, Australia, on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

A Cotton On employee was repeatedly told he was not eligible for the JobKeeper scheme, even though other workers in similar circumstances had their cases successfully reviewed.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Perth-based Jetro Ang said he was told he was ineligible because he was not a “regular and systematic” casual employee.

“I have worked for them for two years, consistently working several shifts each month. I was denied for taking a nine-week break last year for my university exams,” he said.

Cotton On has since included Ang on the JobKeeper program following enquiries from Yahoo Finance.

The Australian clothing retailer made headlines earlier this month after reversing a decision to exclude 200 workers from the JobKeeper program.

Another employee, Hannah Fitchet, was initially denied for taking off half a year for a holiday even though she had been employed at Cotton On since March 2018.

Fitchet had been told she was ineligible for the same reason, but has been included among the 176 Cotton On employees being reviewed for eligibility.

Ang said he had been attempting across several weeks to have his case similarly reviewed, but was unsuccessful at each turn.

“[Another employee] had her review approved by the company even though she had taken 14 weeks off for holiday. It is inconsistent that she is able to take 14 weeks off for holiday and be approved, while I took only nine weeks off for university exams and yet got denied,” he said.

“The company is highly inconsistent with their eligibility reviews. An employee at my store was approved for JobKeeper even though they worked less often than myself, and had joined the company at the same time.”

Perth-based Cotton On employee Jet Ang. (Source: Supplied)

Ang said he raised his claim of eligibility with the company but was denied again, even after a secondary review.

“They again did not acknowledge my evidence and informed me that they would no longer communicate with me, and have not replied to my correspondence since. I have called up their HR department only to be told they won't help me either.”

He said he had attempted to get in touch with Cotton On, but the company was not responding to his emails.

“It seems as though the company is attempting to silence my claim by cutting off any communication about JobKeeper.”

Ang also got in touch with Fair Work and the ATO, and representatives from both agencies advised him he ought to be eligible for the scheme.

“They have said I match the example on the ATO's website for JobKeeper and thus see no reason as to why I'm being denied,” he said.

(Source: ATO)

‘Stress, conflict and injustice’

Ang said the deadlock with Cotton On had negatively affected his sense of self.

“Due to international travel bans I've also been separated from my parents for months which has been especially difficult in these tough times,” he said.

While he had some savings and the support of his family, his parents’ own jobs were also being impacted by Covid-19, contributing to a feeling of uncertainty.

“This has definitely impacted my financial security and mental health.

“Knowing that I am being wrongfully denied payment has been a twist in the gut, as on top of dealing with concerns over my family's well being and pursuing my education, I've had to spend countless stressful hours speaking with the various parties, only to be told that no one is able to help me.”

Loopholes in the JobKeeper legislation have left employees vulnerable, Ang added.

“The JobKeeper scheme was designed to keep employers and employees connected during these tough times, but so far the only thing it's done for me is brought upon additional stress, conflict and injustice,” he said.

“Although JobKeeper operates on a 'one in, all in' basis, there is a distinct lack of enforcement for this rule where employers can force people into a grey area, tell them they are not eligible, and blame the lack of clarity of the rules.”

‘Unfortunate and disappointing’: Cotton On backflips

Yahoo Finance enquired with Cotton On on 20 May about Ang’s situation.

A Cotton On spokesperson responded on the same day and told Yahoo Finance Ang was now considered eligible for the JobKeeper scheme based on information he provided “today”.

“Since the launch of JobKeeper, it’s been our intention to include as many of our people in the program as possible, and we’re really proud that more than 5,500 of our team members are currently receiving the JobKeeper payment,” the spokesperson said.

“Following the announcement of the program in March, we moved quickly to partner with PwC to develop a framework and assess the eligibility of our team members including whether or not they met the criteria for “regular and systematic” employment, which was based on factors such as length of service, regularity of shifts, and duration of leave taken.

“Initially, Jetro Ang fell outside of the ‘regular and systematic’ framework and was deemed ineligible for JobKeeper.

“Based on information that he has supplied to us today, and following legal advice from PwC, we’re pleased to be able to now include Jetro in the JobKeeper program.”

But at the time that Yahoo Finance had heard from Cotton On, Ang had not yet been notified of his inclusion. 

Yahoo Finance understands that Cotton On contacted Ang only on Thursday 21 May.

Ang believes Cotton On only reversed their decision because he spoke about his situation to the media.

“I'm certain they only contacted me again because you enquired about my case, as they had previously told me they would not look further into my circumstances and had not been replying to me. Yet the moment [Yahoo Finance] contacted them they told me they would immediately review my case.

“It's unfortunate and disappointing that it had to come to such lengths before they would give me a fair chance,” he said.

Ang urged other workers who felt they were in a similar situation to come forward and speak up.

“It has been a painful two months of constant pushing back with the company which clearly did not need to happen in the first place,” he said.

“I suspect many other employees are in similar positions, and maybe hearing of a successful case would help them know they are not alone and still have hope – they just need to keep fighting if they know they have a case.”

Tune into Episode 5 of the Yahoo Finance Breakfast Club: Live Online series on Thursday 4th June 10am AEST.

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