The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action against a major service station chain for allegedly underpaying 22 employees $62,393 at sites across regional NSW.
Facing the Federal Circuit Court is Westside Petroleum Retail 1 Pty Ltd and three of its management staff – general manager Patrick Riad, company accountant Francesco Ieraci and area manager Shahzaib Khawaja – who are each alleged to have been involved in the company’s breaches.
The FWO alleges that employees were underpaid at 12 petrol stations – Adaminaby, Wagga Wagga, Finley, Gurley, Lismore, Somerton, Temora, Tolland, Blayney, Glen Innes, Peak Hill and Cooma – for periods between July 2015 and May 2016. During the Audit period, the 12 sites were each company-operated, however Westside service stations are often franchisee-operated. The Fair Work Ombudsman makes no allegations against any franchisee operator.
It is alleged that service station workers were underpaid from $347 to $7,772, with four of the employees aged just 19. Two affected workers were visa holders with one employee on a 489 regional sponsored visa.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said inspectors audited Westside Petroleum following requests for assistance from Westside employees.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman has no tolerance for the underpayment of any workers. We encourage any workers with concerns about their pay to contact us for free advice,” Ms Parker said.
It is alleged the company told employees they would be paid a net rate of $18 per hour, with payroll staff then paying gross weekly amounts generally equating to about $18 per hour net and that this led to underpayments of the employees’ casual weekday, weekend, public holiday and overtime rates under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award.
Workers on adult rates under this Award were entitled to gross hourly wages of $25.05 on weekdays, $32.56 on weekends and public holidays and an additional $14.21 for overtime hours.
“It is unlawful for employers to pay their employees low, flat rates that undercut minimum Award wage rates, and those who rely on an unlawful ‘going rate’ can be left with a major back-payment bill and face significant penalties,” Ms Parker said.
The company faces penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention and each of Mr Riad, Mr Ieraci and Mr Khawaja faces penalties of up to $10,800 per contravention.
Orders are also being sought that will require Westside to provide information to its franchisees about the outcome of this legal action, the need for franchisees and franchisors to comply with the Fair Work Act and the Award, current Award rates, and the potential for civil penalties if they do not comply.
The FWO notes that all employees have now been back-paid in full.
The matter is listed for a directions hearing in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney on 12 April.
Migrant workers should be aware that, in line with an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs, they can seek assistance from the FWO without fear of their visa being cancelled.
Employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations. For a free interpreter service call 13 14 50.