'Stop all WorkChoices ads', demands Labor after 'rip  		off' claims

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'Stop all WorkChoices ads', demands Labor after 'rip off' claims

Labor has called on the Federal Government to stop all its WorkChoices advertising following claims that an actor in an ad about protection of young workers had consistently failed to pay one of his 18 year-old workers while running a Melbourne paint company.

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Labor has called on the Federal Government to stop all its WorkChoices advertising following claims that an actor in an ad about protection of young workers had consistently failed to pay one of his 18 year-old workers while running a Melbourne paint company.

A rattled Federal Government last night cancelled the ad in which the actor appears, and Labor’s IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, says the Government should now pull all the ads, saying they are blatantly political and Australians are ‘sick of them’.

Ironically, the cancelled ad showed the actor, Damien Richardson, playing the role of a concerned father who has been told that employers can 'rip off kids'. A yellow post it note from the Workplace Authority in the ad claims: 'No They Can't'.

Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, has now asked the Workplace Ombudsman to check the background of all actors in the ads.

Recognised in ad

The allegations against Richardson surfaced when a former employee of his in a paint business, Erin Gebert, recognised him in the ad.

Gebert had previously taken the matter to the Workplace Ombudsman but had been told it would take weeks or months to investigate.

But after a direction from Hockey last night the Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, began investigating the matter this morning.

18 year-old was a 'subcontractor'

Richardson claims that Gebert was never an employee, but was a subcontractor who had failed to invoice him for work done.

However, The Age reports that Richardson's name appears as the employer on an apprenticeship form lodged for Gebert in January last year. Richardson claims that his brother Mark had put his name on the form without his knowledge or consent.

Shout them drinks

Gebert claims that rather than pay him, Richardson would take him and other young workers to the football or the pub and shout them drinks.

The Age is reporting today that it has contacted paint suppliers in the Eltham area of Melbourne and found that Richardson owes them tens of thousands of dollars for paint.

Defaulted on debts

It quotes the owner of the Dulux franchise as saying Richardson had defaulted on a debt of $10,000 and bailiffs had been unable to recover the money.

Ombudsman Wilson said the allegations against Richardson were grave but 'it was important not to pre-judge anyone in the absence of solid evidence'.

Regarding the complaint that the Ombudsman's office had not acted quickly on the original complaint by Gebert, Wilson said he would be 'terribly disappointed if it emerges that the Workplace Ombudsman has not treated his enquiry with empathy, urgency and consideration'.

'However I am unable to comment further until all the facts are known,' he said.

Credibility in tatters

ACTU President, Sharan Burrow, said the advertisement has left the Government's credibility in tatters. She said the blunder shows young people are worse off under WorkChoices.

'What young person has the understanding that it takes to be a subcontractor?' she said. 'What young persons know their rights in an employment situation? What you have usually is a set of laws that protect people, but the Government has torn up the laws.'

Hockey said the decision to pull the advertisement and review all actors in Workplace Authority advertisements shows the Government is 'prepared to act decisively'.

People 'sick of ads'

Julia Gillard said Australians are 'sick and tired of turning on their TV screens, turning on their radios, indeed going to a bus stop and being confronted by one of [Prime Minister John] Howard's blatant political ads for his extreme WorkChoices laws'.

'Australians know they are everywhere and they are sick of them,' she said. 'Now these ads have been dogged by controversy and scandal.

'First, of course, there was the misuse of a public servant, Barbara Bennett, in breach of all known understandings of public service rules.

'Second, it was exposed that these ads were 100% the product of polling.

'And today we see that an actor in an ad about not exploiting young people, is accused himself of having underpaid young workers.

'Pull all ads'

'Well, three strikes and you're out. These ads should be pulled from our TV screens.

'The Government overnight has pulled the ad dealing with young workers. The Government today should pull the rest of them. It is time to give Australians a break and get these ads off our TV screens, off our radios and out of our bus stops.'

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