The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured total penalties of $77,708 against a former Sydney Caltex franchisee who falsified wage records for migrant workers.
The Federal Circuit Court today penalised Mohammad Arif Rana $11,540 and his family’s company, Abdul Wahid and Sons Pty Ltd, a further $66,168 for breaching the Fair Work Act. Abdul Wahid and Sons Pty Ltd was formerly the franchisee of several Caltex service stations, including two outlets north-west of Sydney.
Fair Work Inspectors investigated the two outlets in December 2016 when conducting audits of 25 Caltex service stations nationally, following compliance concerns. Rana and the company admitted they knowingly provided Fair Work Inspectors with false and misleading records. Mr Rana and the company also contravened laws requiring employers to issue employees with accurate payslips within one day of payday.
The contravening conduct in the case pre-dates the commencement of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act in September 2017.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker reminded business operators that they now face significantly increased penalties of up to $126,000 per breach for serious false-and-misleading-records contraventions since the new laws came into effect.
“Any employer who deliberately frustrates our audits by using false records should take note that higher maximum penalties now apply, and prosecution in a criminal court is possible for the most serious cases,” Ms Parker said.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman is also enforcing new reverse onus of proof laws that require employers to disprove underpayment allegations in Court when they have failed to keep accurate time and wages records. We urge any workers who are receiving incorrect information about time and wages on pay slips, or not receiving them, to contact us.”
Judge Nicholas Manousaridis accepted the Fair Work Ombudsman’s submission that the contraventions by Rana and his family’s company were made in relation to vulnerable employees, with most, if not all, from migrant backgrounds.
“The [Fair Work Ombudsman] submits … that when an employer does not make and keep records in relation to employees, an effective safety net for the employees is difficult to maintain and results in those employees being more vulnerable to exploitation,” Judge Manousaridis said.
The absence of accurate time-and-wages records prevented inspectors from completing a full audit to determine whether employees at the outlets had been paid their full lawful entitlements.
The FWO issued Abdul Wahid and Sons Pty Ltd with a Notice to Produce and Rana and the company provided timesheets, payroll records and pay slips purporting to show the hours worked and wage rates for 15 employees at the two service stations. The employees included several visa holders, including a number of Pakistani nationals.
The Fair Work Ombudsman discovered that the time-and-wage records provided could not be correct because the company had been knowingly using its payroll software in a manner that produced false records.
The FWO reported last year on significant compliance problems among Caltex’s network of franchisee-operated outlets, including serious record-keeping deficiencies that prevented an assessment of the true extent of underpayments.