Australian Country Choice signs Enforceable Undertaking

Queensland-based cattle and meat processing company Australian Country Choice Holdings Pty Ltd (ACCH) is entering into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman after reporting that members of the Australian Country Choice Group of companies (ACC Group) underpaid staff more than $2.5 million.

The privately-owned company self-reported the non-compliance to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2020 after commencing a review in response to employee inquiries.

Between 2010 and 2021, employees at the ACC Group’s abattoir and meat processing facility at Cannon Hill in Brisbane were underpaid entitlements under several awards and enterprise agreements.

The underpayments occurred because companies within the ACC Group engaged employees on employment contracts containing unlawful and ineffective offsetting clauses. The companies incorrectly believed these clauses enabled them to offset entitlements such as overtime by paying a higher overall rate of pay, while also failing to monitor pay rates to ensure these were increased in line with annual national minimum wages increases.

This led the companies to underpay employee entitlements and allowances including overtime, shift and meal allowances, public holiday penalty rates and annual leave loading. The companies also breached record-keeping and pay slip laws.

Underpaid employees include meat workers; cleaners; yard-persons, stock-persons and store-persons; administrative staff including clerks; procurement and logistics workers; and manufacturing employees.

ACCH has back-paid 342 current and former employees nearly $3.28 million, including superannuation and interest. The EU requires the company to back-pay all underpaid employees by 13 January 2023. Individual back-payments range from less than $1 to more than $134,000.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said that an EU was appropriate because ACCH cooperated with the FWO and demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying underpayments.

“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, ACCH has committed to implementing stringent measures to ensure workers are being paid correctly. These measures include conducting, at the company’s own cost, audits of its compliance with workplace laws over the next two years as well as reporting to the FWO on the extensive upgrade of its human resources and record keeping systems,” Mr Campbell said.

“This matter demonstrates how important it is for employers to prioritise their compliance with workplace relations laws, including at the outset of the employment relationship, ensuring the terms of employment contracts are lawful and effective and that all relevant award and agreement entitlements are passed on. It also shows the importance of monitoring pay rates to ensure these remain in step with increasing legal minimums.”

“Any employer who needs help meeting their lawful obligations to their employees should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.”

Under the EU, ACCH is required to engage an independent expert to review its underpayment rectification process and provide that report to FWO, publish notices in media, social media, its website and its workplaces detailing its breaches, and apologise to workers.

ACCH must also make a $200,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth’s Consolidated Revenue Fund. The company is required to engage an independent organisation to operate a Hotline for employees to enquire about their wages and entitlements for 12 months.

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