Political party leader penalised for short-changing workers

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.

Peter Jones, who was the secretary and lead upper house candidate for the No Land Tax Party at the 2015 NSW election, has been penalised $13,315 in the Federal Circuit Court. His party has also been penalised a further $67,575.

The penalties, imposed by Judge Tom Altobelli, are the result of legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.  Jones and the No Land Tax Party recruited about 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 Jones and the No Land Tax Party failed to co-operate.

In Court, Jones and the Party 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, well being or finances”. Judge Altobelli labelled the submission “arrogant”.

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.

Jones and the No Land Tax Party recruited workers by mailing flyers to homes around NSW, 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. Jones also emailed many of the workers on election day, and on three separate occasions after the election, assuring them they would be paid.

However, Jones stated in Court that the No Land Tax 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 No Land Tax Party candidate was elected.

Jones and the 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, submitting that the non-payment of workers was “a grave miscalculation that arose from blind optimism”. However, Altobelli accepted the Fair Work Ombudsman’s submission that, when considered in its entirety, the contraventions of Jones and the Party were deliberate.

“The difficulty for the Respondents is that there is no evidence that satisfies the Court that they had a legitimate and considered expectation of winning one or more seats in the NSW Election on 28 March 2015,” Altobelli said. “Moreover, even if they had won, on their own evidence (or lack thereof) they could not have reasonably satisfied the requirements for payment from the Election Campaign Fund due to lack of records.”

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

Altobelli ordered the No Land Tax 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.