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Political Party Leader Short-Changes Workers

A political party leader penalised and criticised for his “arrogant” attitude.
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Political Party Leader Short-Changes Workers

Political Party Leader Short-Changes Workers

14 December 2017

This article originally appeared on Fair Work.

A political party leader who promised to pay workers $30 an hour to hand out how-to-vote cards but paid them nothing has been penalised in Court and criticised by a Judge for his “arrogant” attitude and lack of remorse.

The politician has been penalised $13,315 in the Federal Circuit Court and his Party was penalised a further $67,575.

The Party and politician recruited approximately 3600 workers to hand-out how to vote cards for up to 10 hours on NSW election day in 2015 by offering to pay $30 an hour.

The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated after being contacted by workers and commenced legal action after the individual and the Party failed to co-operate.

Both parties involved admitted contravening workplace laws by failing to pay the workers – but submitted that “it cannot seriously be accepted by the Court that not being paid approximately $300 for the day has had a material impact on their lives, wellbeing or finances”.

In his judgement, Judge Tom Altobelli labelled the submission “arrogant”.

“The submission made on behalf of the Respondents is both inconsistent with the evidence before the Court from the workers themselves, and regrettably arrogant,” he said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s litigation focused on a sample of 21 of the underpaid workers who were short-changed a total of $6219. The sample included teenagers, students and people who were otherwise unemployed, among others.

One of the unpaid workers gave evidence that they felt they had been “taken advantage of” and another said she had “lost trust in elections and politicians”.

One worker aged just 14, in his first job, said he was “really disappointed”.

The politician and his party recruited workers by mailing flyers to homes around NSW seeking “outgoing and enthusiastic” people and stating “your base pay is $30 an hour – you will get paid this regardless of what vote your local candidate obtains …”.

Additional bonuses up to $500 were also offered if candidates polled well.

The politician emailed many of the workers on election day, and on three separate occasions in the weeks that followed, assuring them they would be paid.

However, the politician’s evidence in Court was that the Party was reliant on receiving public funding to meet the wages, with this funding to be received only if a candidate was elected to the NSW Parliament.

Not one candidate from the party was elected.

The politician and his Party also contravened workplace laws by failing to keep basic employee records and failing to comply with a Notice to Produce issued by the Fair Work Ombudsman during its investigation.

The politician and the Party submitted that the non-payment of workers was “a grave miscalculation that arose from blind optimism”.

However, Judge Altobelli accepted the Fair Work Ombudsman’s submission that, when considered in its entirety, the contraventions of the politician and the Party were deliberate.

Judge Altobelli found that the politician and the Party “do not appear to take full responsibility for their contraventions” and that there had been “limited demonstration of contrition or remorse”.

The individual and the Party rectified underpayments of the 21 sample workers – who represent less than one per cent of all workers engaged - only after the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced litigation. There is no evidence that other workers have been back-paid.

Judge Altobelli ordered the Party to audit entitlements owing to all workers it engaged on NSW election day in 2015 and to advise the Fair Work Ombudsman of the steps it will take to rectify identified underpayments.

However, the politician submitted in Court that the Party has no funds or assets.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the Court’s judgment sends a clear message that failing to pay employees for the work they perform is a serious contravention of workplace rights.

“One of the key features of this case is the Court’s emphatic dismissal of any notion that failing to pay employees any wages for short periods of work is not a serious matter,” Ms James said.

“Being paid minimum wages for work performed is a fundamental right for any worker – and employers should not be engaging staff if they do not have access to the funds they need to pay employees their minimum rates.

“This case in particular displays a callous indifference to young and vulnerable employees who had every right to expect they would be paid for their work.

“Employers should also be aware that we treat cases involving underpayment of young workers particularly seriously because we are conscious that they can be vulnerable due to a lack of awareness of their entitlements and a reluctance to complain.”

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