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Ombudsman roundup

Penalties of more than $35,000 have been imposed on the owner and manager of a Tasmanian hotel for applying duress to a 19-year old worker to sign an AWA. The Ombudsman has also been active in other States.

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Penalties of more than $35,000 have been imposed on the owner and manager of a Tasmanian hotel for applying duress to a 19-year old worker to sign an AWA. The Ombudsman has also been active in other States.

Tas tavern fined $35,000

Workplace Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, prosecuted the Granada Tavern as a business, owner Michael Hibberd as a business and Jocelyn Berechree as the General Manager of the Granada Tavern, at the time the duress was perpetrated.

Granada Tavern was fined $24,750, Hibberd $7,500 and Berechree $3,000. The penalty assigned to the business and to Hibberd is equal to 75% of the maximum penalty applicable for these breaches under the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

Egregious conduct

In his Penalty Decision, Federal Magistrate Burkhardt noted that the conduct of Hibberd, the Granada Tavern and Berechree was 'Egregious. It was intended to and I have no doubt did place a great deal of strain on a young woman in a completely disempowered situation.'

He also noted that general deterrence against duress is a significant theme in the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and said: 'I should impose a penalty that deters not only the Granada Tavern but other employers and their directors and managers from the sort of conduct I have found to have taken place in this case.'

Reduction of hours

The court's original decision upheld the Workplace Ombudsman's case that the young woman suffered duress from Hibberd's deliberate reduction of her hours of work and making it clear this would not be rectified until she signed the AWA.

In another contributing instance of duress, Hibberd told a meeting of casual waitresses that the reason he wanted them to sign the AWA's was that 'if we didn't have it the Granada would be run like a concentration camp.'

Concentration camp

In his decision Federal Magistrate Burkhardt found that this was a 'totally inappropriate use of phraseology' and that 'I regard the use of the phrase running the Granada like a concentration camp used by a man whom I infer is markedly older and certainly in a position of very considerable power authority relevant to employment of these young and, moreover casual, employees, as being wholly inappropriate'.

Darwin petrol station

In another matter the Ombudsman announced it has concluded its investigation into the United Petroleum Petrol Station on Bagot Road in Darwin following reports in the media regarding potentially unlawful treatment of workers by the new owner United Petroleum.

Allegations included unlawful dismissal and exploitation of 457 visa workers.

Bill Loizides, Workplace Ombudsman Executive Director Field Operations, said the Workplace Ombudsman had found no evidence of these workplace practices at Bagot Road but had detected a small underpayment totalling $301 to five workers which has been voluntarily rectified by the United Petroleum.

Slippery work at fast food outlets

Meanwhile, following a preliminary the Workplace Ombudsman believes it has detected multiple breaches of workplace law among audited Warrnambool fast food and takeaway food outlets including:

  • Young workers being employed 'off the books' and employers not keeping a record of employment relationships with the young workers
  • Employers failing to issue appropriate payslips to workers
  • Significant underpayment of young workers wages and entitlements
  • Non lodgement of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs)

The Workplace Ombudsman will be in a position to provide a more detailed update on the outcomes of the Warrnambool following analysis of all the evidence in approximately two weeks' time.

It is conducting a blitz on fast food outlets across the nation.

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