Collins Foods has announced it will give back $1.8 million of JobKeeper payments received by its nine Sizzler restaurants in the final months before the venues closed down last year.
The fast-food giant, which owns KFC and Taco Bell, told its shareholders in an ASX update on Tuesday that it would return $1.8 million of payments received after October 1, 2020, despite still being eligible for the wage subsidy.
The company board decided in October to close the remaining nine Sizzler restaurants in Australia, which stopped trading about six weeks later.
Drew O’Malley, chief executive of Collins Foods, said the decision is in line with one of the company’s values of “positive impact”.
Instead of continuing to seek JobKeeper payments from the government for employees in the final months of Sizzler’s operation, Collins Foods paid staff an equivalent amount from its own funds, O’Malley said in a statement.
While Sizzler was the “hardest hit” of Collins Foods brands and operated at a loss last year, the company said Taco Bell recovered to pre-COVID-19 trading levels by December and KFC was also performing well.
In its half-yearly results, Collins Foods reported an increase in sales of 11% to $499.6 million in the six months to October 18, 2020, as the firm’s 242 KFC stores and 12 Taco Bell outlets remained popular during the pandemic
KFC’s same-store sales in Australia rose 12.4% as click-and-collect, drive-through and home delivery options allowed the stores to adapt to public health restrictions.
The company’s decision to repay JobKeeper amounts comes amid calls for publicly listed companies that recorded strong profits or paid dividends to shareholders to return the wage subsidies.
This article was updated at 5.18pm on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.