Harvey Norman is a terrible company that does not deserve your business. This post looks at their screwing over of workers and the taxpayer, and what is to be done about it.
Trigger warning, a segment of this article deals with suicide.
Screwing over the taxpayer
Early last year, the Morrison government made [for once] the right decision to introduce a wage subsidy, called JobKeeper, to follow the advice of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the International Monetary Fund of keeping together the “web of [economic] relations” through the pandemic.
Businesses were not required to pay back the subsidy, however profits in discretionary spending industries (ie retail) unexpectedly boomed in 2020 as people rushed to buy work-from-home essentials. This led to demands, primarily pushed by Federal member for Fenner Andrew Leigh MP, for big businesses: especially those which paid a big dividend.
Harvey Norman’s profits jumped over 120% in 2020 and CEO Gerry Harvey is digging in his heels against paying back the roughly $6 million in subsidies his company received. Harvey Norman franchisees received at least another $14 million in JobKeeper subsidies. In March, the ASX-listed retailer paid a dividend of $250 million to its shareholders ($0.20 per share). About $80 million of which (about a third) ended up in Mr Harvey’s back pocket.
Harvey Norman has form in screwing over taxpayers. In 2011, they exploited a [since closed] loophole in the goods and services tax by creating an online “direct import” video game store in Ireland. Although this allowed people to buy games marginally cheaper, it also diverted untold amounts of money from our state governments.
Screwing over workers
The ACTU and the retail unions are applying for a modest increase to the minimum hourly rate for retail workers: an average of 69 cents. Harvey Norman has applied to have any increase delayed for another six months. As addressed above, Harvey Norman is a profitable company. It can afford to pay their employees, the people who actually make the sales that Mr Harvey lives off, a nice wage increase. Instead, it would rather take that money to splurge on dividends partially buoyed up by taxpayer’s money.
It’s lucky that a wage rise is even being considered given that, last year, Mr Harvey’s group wanted to leech off of volunteer labour.
Last year, The School Locker – a company owned by Harvey Norman whose grift is to buy out high school uniform shops in order to hawk FlexiRent arrangements for BYOD devices and profiteer off of compulsory uniform purchases – asked parents to volunteer in school shops in exchange for store credit. This would normally be fine, after all most uniform shops are run by volunteers and the schools themselves are almost always registered charities or government agencies. However, The School Locker is a for-profit business with paid employees who would be profiting from the unpaid labour and goodwill of parents and community members. The program was withdrawn after public backlash and questions over its legality.
Harvey Norman also doesn’t care about the welfare of their employees. Here, a person who claims to be former employee reports that the conditions they suffered under Harvey Norman’s tyranny to the point of suicide ideation. What was Harvey Norman’s response? Two emojis: “🤦♂️👋”.
What this was supposed to mean was anyone’s guess.
Most such guesses I saw interpreted this as a pro-suicide statement. As if the faceless PR representative were saying to this suicidal employee: “bye-bye!”, inviting the aggrieved former employee to kill themselves. Even if one were to argue that Harvey Norman’s social media team did not mean this, it was an unnecessary and insensitive response to a rather serious allegation which begs the question of how they respond to others who may suffer in their company.
What should be done about this charlatan and his unethical profiteering?
Your response to Harvey Norman should come from a simple fact: You are not required to shop at Gerry Harvey’s businesses.
Gerry Harvey and his exploitative businesses have lost my patronage and I invite you to drop him off your shopping lists too. The Harvey Norman Group sells almost nothing you can’t buy elsewhere.
Boycotting Harvey Norman and their unethical business practices means avoiding purchases from the following stores:
- Harvey Norman
- Joyce Mayne
- The School Locker
The high school I went to, St Edmunds College Canberra, ripped up their contract with The School Locker in 2019 (prompting this small-violin sob story in The Canberra Times). If your local school has a similar contract with The School Locker, lobby the principal and the board to rip up the contract like my alma mater did.
The less we spend at Mr Harvey’s businesses, the less his board can splurge on him through massive dividends and the less influence he has.
The header image includes a version of an image by William Cho.