Service station chain Westside Petroleum has been penalised $57,000 for ripping off 22 employees a total of $62,393.
The underpayments happened at 12 petrol stations in regional New South Wales and at Lismore in Victoria between July 2015 and May 2016.
Westside Petroleum Retail 1 Pty Ltd has been penalised $45,000, and general manager Patrick Riad, company accountant Francesco Ieraci and area manager Shahzaib Khawaja have each been penalised $4000, by the Federal Circuit Court.
Fair work inspectors conducted audits of Westside petrol stations at Wagga Wagga, Somerton, Temora, Adaminaby, Finley, Glen Innes, Blayney, Cooma, Tollant and Peak Hill in New South Wales and at Lismore in Victoria after receiving complaints from employees.
The wage theft was the result of the company paying employees unlawfully low, flat rates ranging from $15 to $25 an hour.
This resulted in underpayment of casual weekday, weekend, public holiday and overtime rates under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award.
The 22 affected workers were underpaid amounts ranging from $347 to $7772, with four of the employees aged just 19 at the time.
Two of the workers were visa holders with one employee on a 489 regional sponsored visa.
What the court said
Judge Robert Cameron found that the underpayments were deliberate and said they were “not insignificant”, with some employees underpaid approximately $1000 per month.
Addressing Westside Petroleum’s submission that it was rapidly expanding at the time, Judge Cameron said “the commercial imperative to seize new business opportunities can explain distraction from issues of compliance but it does not excuse it”.
“It is unacceptable that Westside Petroleum focussed on the growth of its business and failed to have proper regard to very basic employer obligations,” Judge Cameron said. Judge Cameron ordered the company to provide its franchisees with information about workplace laws and display workplace notices providing information on workplace laws.
Flat rates a common form of wage theft
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Act Claims said many businesses pay flat rates as a deliberate way to rip off their workers.
“Modern awards set out exactly what hourly rate employees are entitled to, and they change depending on the time, day and length of a particular shift,” he said.
“Businesses that pay flat rates below award minimums are either lazy or incompetent – and certainly, if you are a worker and you are being paid with a flat rate, and you work weekends, or evenings or public holidays, then you are probably being ripped off and you should get some expert advice.”
The 22 service station workers have all been back paid in full.
If you have not been paid your proper wages and entitlements, or if you are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
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