Cleaning company charged over alleged underpayments

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A contract cleaning company in regional WA is set to face Federal court for allegedly underpaying its employees more than $119,000, and falsifying employee records.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Carnarvon Cleaners Pty Ltd, alongside its sole shareholder and director, Margaret Herlysha Seaton, underpaid 35 employees a total of $119,318 under the Cleaning Services Award 2010 between November 2017 and November 2018. The workers were allegedly denied their full entitlements under minimum-engagement pay, casual loadings, part-time allowances, weekend and public holiday penalty rates, overtime rates, annual leave loading, broken-shift allowances and leading-hand allowances.

All affected workers were employed as cleaners to service the premises of Carnarvon Cleaners’ clients, including a number of corporate entities and government departments, with individual underpayments ranging from $69 to $16,303. Employees have since been back-paid in full.

Carnarvon Cleaners also allegedly breached record keeping laws, including by knowingly making and keeping false or misleading records and providing them to Fair Work Inspectors.

The FWO stressed that the underpayments occurred despite the FWO having made Carnarvon Cleaners and Ms Seaton aware of their lawful obligations under the Cleaning Services Award 2010 during previous audits between 2010 and 2014.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said it was unacceptable for an employer to fail to take appropriate corrective action after being put on notice.

“A key role of the Fair Work Ombudsman is to help businesses understand and comply with their responsibilities under workplace laws,” Parker said. “This can include assisting employers to rectify any breaches and put processes in place to protect their employees into the future.”

The breaches were discovered when FWO investigated Carnarvon Cleaners as part of a national auditing campaign in 2018. Carnarvon Cleaners faces potential penalties of up to $63,000 per contravention and Seaton faces potential penalties of up to $12,600 per contravention. The FWO is also seeking a court order requiring Seaton to undergo training in workplace relations laws.

A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Circuit Court in Perth on 11 May 2021.