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Cotton On backflips on JobKeeper decision to exclude hundreds of workers

(Source: Getty, Yahoo Finance screenshot/ABC)

Cotton On has reneged on a decision to exclude 200 staff members from the JobKeeper scheme amid backlash from workers who claim to have been unfairly left out.

The retail giant currently has 5,500 workers receiving the $1,500-a-fortnight wage subsidy and initially found more than 2,500 were not eligible.

However, a review of 376 team members has found 200 workers actually now qualify and will be included in the scheme.

The other 176 are still being reviewed with the hope they will also be eligible for JobKeeper.

“Our goal is to get as many of our people onto the scheme as possible,” Cotton On chief financial officer Michael Hardwick told the ABC’s 7.30.

A Cotton On spokesperson told Yahoo Finance work over the past week had “resulted in approximately 200 more team members being added to the JobKeeper Program”.

“These team members were among a small group whose status required further review based on the framework we developed on advice from the ATO, and in partnership with PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] and the Australian Retailers Association,” the spokesperson said.

“We will continue our work to ensure we have as many of our Australian team supported by the Government’s JobKeeper subsidy as possible.”

Cotton On worker Hannah Fitchet has been working at the retailer for two years, but was initially told she was ineligible for JobKeeper because she had not been employed in a “regular and systematic” fashion as per the scheme’s requirements.

Fitchet was employed by Cotton On in March 2018 before taking a six-month break to travel overseas last year.

In an email last month, Cotton On’s HR department told Fitchet in an email “any period of more than 12 weeks away from work would generally break continuous service”.

"So, unfortunately, this is why we have found that you were not employed on a regular and systematic basis for the purposes of JobKeeper,” the email continued.

But Fitchet pushed back against the company’s determination, arguing there was no specific rule that excluded her from the wage subsidy.

“If there was a guideline given from the Government or the ATO that said if you've taken over 12 weeks off at a time that means you're not eligible, I would have been like, 'OK, that's fine, I'm not eligible'," she told the ABC.

“But there's nothing that says that. That's why I've been looking for so many answers in regard to this because I don't even know yet.”

Fitchet is now among the 176 employees being reviewed for eligibility.

JobKeeper has come under criticism from different groups for excluding certain workers – such as short-term casual employees, temporary visa holders, younger workers and those whose employers are considered a 'sovereign entity'.

Tune into Episode 4 of the Yahoo Finance Breakfast Club: Live Online series on Thursday 21st May 10am AEST.

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