Motel fined $170,000 over 'brutal' AWA treatment

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Motel fined $170,000 over 'brutal' AWA treatment

A Hobart motel has been fined $170,000 – the equivalent of a year’s profit – for ‘brutally’ trying to force its employees to sign AWAs.

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A Hobart motel has been fined $170,000 – the equivalent of a year’s profit – for ‘brutally’ trying to force its employees to sign AWAs.

Justice Heery of the Federal Court yesterday found that the manager of the motel, John Barry, had implemented the AWA policy ‘in a cynical and brutal way’.

He found that the Mornington Inn had contravened the FederaL Workplace Relations Act 1996 10 times and ordered a penalty of $17,000 for each breach of workplace law.
 

Threats to cut hours

Duress was applied to the workers through a variety of tactics including manipulation of rosters to ensure the workers were workers would be rostered for hours they would not be able to take up due to parenting responsibilities, threats to cut their hours of work and behaving in such a way so that some of the workers felt threatened and bullied.

Workplace Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson, who launched the prosecution, said the five victims of the duress were low income workers who for a variety of reasons were vulnerable to the financial undue pressure exerted on them by the Mornington Inn.
 

Single parents

They included single parents and workers who ‘make ends meet’ by working a number of lowly paid jobs.

‘The deliberate use of financial pressure on vulnerable workers least able to resist it to pressure them to sign AWA’s is tantamount to industrial bastardry and employers must be aware that the Workplace Ombudsman will not tolerate such conduct,’ Wilson said.

In July last year, a number of serving staff at Mornington Inn refused to sign AWAs that switched them to a flat hourly pay rate of $17 with no penalties.
 

‘Cynical and brutal’

Justice Heery said that the Mornington Inn workers had then experienced duress as a result a ‘policy implemented by Barry in a cynical and brutal way. Barry’s conduct can be described as deliberate, targeted, sustained and aggressive. [One of the workers] was reduced to tears. [Two others] had family responsibilities which Barry did not just ignore, he took advantage of them.’

Justice Heery rejected the motel owner’s defence that the coercion was the manager’s fault. He said the manager acted with the authority of the motel’s owners and no steps were taken to stop him.

The judge made clear that in these situations the actions of a manager such as Barry are also those of his employer and that the manager cannot be said, in the time honoured metaphor, to be ‘off on a frolic of his own.’
 

Deterrence

Justice Heery said deterrence was an important element in his decision to issue a penalty, believed to be equivalent to a year’s profit.

‘There must be many workplaces in Australia with staff profiles similar to those at the hotel: low-paid casual workers dependent for a reasonable living on penalty rates for discretionary shift work,’ he said.

He said employees might be unaware of relevant provisions of the law, and contraventions might not come to the notice of workplace inspectors or unions.

The fine is almost double the previous record fine of $88,000 for spectacle supplier Merringtons.

Glenn Jordan v Mornington Inn Proprietary Limited [2007] FCA 1384 (12 September 2007)

Related

AWA duress came from business ethics expert, says Ombudsman

Ombudsman puts heat on AWA duress claims


 

 

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