Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci (Image: AAP/David Moir)

Even as Woolworths was preparing to acknowledge yesterday that it had stolen the wages of nearly 6000 of its employees, it was getting its defence ready: it was because of the complexity and inflexibility of awards. CEO Brad Banducci declared "this is a very complex issue which needs an industry-level dialogue on it".

Banducci had barely spoken before David Leyonhjelm appeared on the Financial Review site claiming the issue of wage theft was merely a "moral panic" that "originates in Australia’s absurdly complex industrial relation system, with its mess of awards and agreements barely changed from the middle of the 20th century". Indeed, "the real thief is the government with its excessive taxes".

This is now a standard defence of business when caught out ripping off their own staff: it's really hard to follow awards.