Earlier this year, a Victorian plumbing company and its director were hit with penalties totalling $121,500 for failing to register a young worker’s apprenticeship and pay him his correct wages.
Pulis Plumbing paid its trainee an apprentice rate of $12.18 an hour, but as he was not formally signed up as an apprentice, he was entitled to $37.08 hourly and up to double that for overtime, in addition to meal and travel allowances, and leave and termination payments.
In just over a three-month period, the employee had been underpaid by nearly $27,000.
After the young labourer left the company, he civilly asked for his outstanding wages. The owner told him to “Seriously, **** off. When I’m ready.”
This business had already been advised by the Fair Work Ombudsman that labourer rates must be paid if an apprenticeship is not registered, and the Federal Circuit Court Judge found that the underpayment of this employee was deliberate.
Judge Grant Riethmuller stated this was “outrageous exploitation of a young person” and the “conduct is worse than simply underpaying an employee…as the [company] also held out the lure of an apprenticeship…a particularly significant career and life goal”. He added that a further loss to the employee in this case was the time working for the company that could be counted against his apprenticeship because of the failure to sign and lodge the appropriate documentation.
The employer also hadn’t kept adequate time records or provided payslips and failed to comply with a Fair Work inspector’s Notice to Produce records.
Relying on the employee’s own records of the hours the employee had worked, the Judge said: “In a case such as this, I would have been prepared to accept even generalised estimates from the employee as to his hours”. He noted the recent amendment to the Fair Work Act that “if the employer fails to keep timesheets and provide payslips the employer has the burden of disproving an employee’s claim about hours worked and payments made.”