The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured more than $130,000 in penalties against a Victorian trolley collecting operator, who caused “financial and emotional hardship” to three workers by sacking them and refusing to pay unfair dismissal compensation.
William Collen Hancock, the aforementioned operator, was penalised $22,680 and his company WCH Services Pty Ltd has been penalised a further $113,400. The penalties, imposed in the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, are the result of three separate legal actions by the Fair Work Ombudsman in response to Hancock and his company breaching the Fair Work Act by failing to comply with three unfair dismissal compensation orders from the Fair Work Commission.
Hancock and his company failed to pay compensation amounts of $17,392 and $4446 to two employees unfairly dismissed in 2015, and $962 to a worker unfairly dismissed in 2016. The Fair Work Ombudsman made several requests for Hancock and his company to comply with the compensation order, but they refused.
In relation to one of the workers, Hancock told the Fair Work Ombudsman he “would rather go to jail than give (the worker) one more cent”.
The compensation amounts remain unpaid – and in addition to the penalties, Judge Norah Hartnett ordered Hancock and his company to pay the compensation amounts in full. Hartnett also ordered Hancock and his company to pay $12,491 in Fair Work Ombudsman legal costs.
Judge Hartnett found that Hancock and his company had caused the three workers “actual financial and emotional hardship”. One worker gave evidence that it took him seven months to find alternative employment after he was dismissed, while another gave evidence that he has remained unemployed since he was dismissed in 2016. The other worker gave evidence that he had to undertake further education to improve his employment prospects and had relocated to Queensland due to financial pressures.
Judge Hartnett found that the contraventions were deliberate and that Hancock and his company had not demonstrated any contrition or corrective action.
“The Respondents have demonstrated no contrition or corrective action, in particular any action taken by the corporation to correct its illegal approach and change its behaviour,” he said.
He noted that WCH Services Pty Ltd continues to operate a business, with Hancock as a director, and said there was a need to impose a penalty that deterred them from further breaches.
“Any penalty imposed by the Court is required to resonate with the Respondents’ such that they do not engage in any future non-compliance of workplace laws,” the judge said.
It is only the second time the Fair Work Ombudsman, or its predecessor Agencies, have taken three legal actions against a business operator. The other such case also involved a trolley collecting operator.