A fuel retailer has been encouraged to enter a compliance partnership with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) after two outlets allegedly underpaid international students a total of over $5000.
Random audits of 11 United Petroleum outlets, an Australian-owned company, in late September 2015 found that six were breaching workplace laws, including underpaying staff by thousands of dollars. The brand currently has 338 sites nationally operated by franchisees and commission agents.
In two cases, the underpaid employees, console operators, were international students from India and Bangladesh with no understanding of their workplace rights.
The FWO, Natalie James, commenced investigations into United Petroleum after media reports late last year alleged some employees were being paid as little as $10 an hour.
She revealed that enforcement action has already been taken against two United Petroleum operators – one at Pooraka, in South Australia, and another at Waterloo, in NSW. Both operators have signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the FWO aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance with federal workplace laws.
United Petroleum Pooraka was found to have underpaid five Indian students a total of $2032 between the third of August and December 31 last year, and United Petroleum Waterloo was found to have underpaid three international students from India and Bangladesh a total of $3096 during the same time frame.
They were paying flat hourly rates of $18.70 and $18 respectively for all hours worked, when the casual workers should have received $25.05 Monday to Friday and $32.56 on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We use Enforceable Undertakings where we have formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this and accepted responsibility and agreed to co-operate and fix the problem,” said James.
She said the agency wrote to United Petroleum head office in early December, offering to work with the franchisor to assist it review its practices and ensure franchisees understand their workplace obligations and the damage that can be caused to a brand if those responsibilities are not met.
But United Petroleum did not respond.
James said that as a result, FWO officials earlier this month met with senior representatives from United Petroleum head office to again promote the benefits of the franchisor entering into a compliance partnership with the agency.
Ms James says that in recognition that some employees are reluctant to complain about their workplace issues, the Agency now has an “Anonymous Report” function to allow the community to report potential workplace breaches.
Intelligence can be provided at www.fairwork.gov.au/tipoff.
A number of well-known franchised brands have entered into compliance partnerships, including McDonalds, Domino’s, La Porchetta, the Coffee Club and Groove Train.