Retail magnate Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments will pay back $15.6 million in JobKeeper wage subsidies, in a surprising shift on the taxpayer funds.
The company on Monday said it would repay the net benefit collected during the first-half (ended January 30) of its financial year, having used JobKeeper funds to pay staff during coronavirus lockdowns as recently as April.
Premier said sales increased after these lockdowns, and fully offset the cost of paying staff wages during the restrictions.
Premier owns stores including Just Jeans, Peter Alexander and Smiggle, and in March declared profits surged to $188 million.
Mr Lew at the time defended Premier’s decision not to repay the funds. He said they may be needed to pay workers in the event of more lockdowns.
Yet the company on Monday said the sales increase – and the federal, state and territory governments’ success in managing coronavirus – meant it was appropriate to repay the JobKeeper benefit.
However, federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh said Premier may have collected as much as $110 million in JobKeeper and should pay back the remainder.
“Last year, Premier set a record profit, paid the CEO a $2.5m bonus and paid a stonking dividend. They don’t need a single dollar of corporate welfare,” he wrote on Twitter.
A company spokesman declined to respond to Mr Leigh’s comments.
Premier collected JobKeeper until September, when it was no longer eligible for the assistance.
The federal government last year created the JobKeeper wage subsidy to help employers retain workers as the economy took a beating during coronavirus lockdowns. JobKeeper expired in March.
Premier shares were down 1.71 per cent to $25.84 at 1.30pm AEST.