Month in Review – February 2020

In the News

Telstra is moving the majority of its suppliers to 20-day payment terms in the face of mounting community anger and after the telco risked losing hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts if it did not pay its suppliers promptly.

According to a new survey, almostone in two Australian workers put their company at risk of a cyber attack by opening emails and clicking links from unknown senders, downloading software and watching suspicious videos. Business email compromise was the most prevalent security threat in Australia in 2019, placing Australia in the top two countries with the most attempted attacks.

The restaurant business of former MasterChef judge George Calombaris has been put into voluntary administration, only a few months after being caught in a media scandal over the resolution of  their staff underpayments with the Fair Work Ombudsman, with almost all venues to cease trading immediately and hundreds of employees affected.

Qantas has told its long haul pilots it will bring in a separate workforce to operate its scheduled non-stop flights from east coast Australia to London and New York called Project sunrise if they do not agree to a new wage agreement.

NSW Industrial Relations have launched an eLearning Module, to understand the Essentials of Long Service Leave in NSW. The eModule has been developed to help employers understand the fundamentals of long service leave, employee’s entitlements and how to pay it.

Holden will be axed in Australia at the end of 2020, and the federal government has vowed to hold Holden to account over its promise to support the 600 workers and hundreds of dealers affected by the company’s decision to cease all Australian operations.

In light of the recent underpayment scandals, Attorney-General Christian Porter will introduce legislation to criminalise the worst cases of wage theft. Employers who underpay workers could be forced to name and shame themselves with public signs admitting their wage theft as part of industrial relations reforms.

Coles has admitted to underpaying its employees by $20 million, Target has admitted to underpaying its salaried staff by $9 million and Super Retail Group, the umbrella company behind Rebel Sport, Supercheap Auto and BCF, has revealed its staff underpayment bill has reached $61.2 million. Woolworths has admitted that the size of the underpayments of salaried employees had grown from $265 million last year to $315 million and is likely to rise further.

Australian businesses continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus outbreak as the Australian resource producers, including BHP, have warned about business uncertainties in the near-term as they assess the virus’ impact. The Tourism and Transport Forum has estimated there would be an average monthly loss in total tourism receipts of $2 billion beyond March.

In the Courts

The Fair Work Comission (the FWC) has accepted a late unfair dismissal application of a worker dismissed two days before flying overseas only to discover on arrival that her mother was dying of cancer. The FWC found it would have been ‘shockingly callous’ to require detailed medical records sought by her former employer.

The FWC has held that a home improvement company had a valid reason to sack a business manager who recklessly approved credit for a struggling customer, but its process in dismissing its manager while on sick leave rendered it unfair. The business was ordered to pay $10,150 to its former manager.

The Federal Court has ordered the Australian Workers’ Union to pay an $18,000 penalty for adverse action by pressing charges under its rules against two members who refused to support industrial action against Orica.

The FWC has found that an employer’s failure to consult a pregnant worker before unexpectedly announcing her redundancy to be the ‘very definition of unfair’, rejecting the employer’s submissions that a series of meetings were adequate. In these circumstances, compensation was found to be an appropriate remedy.

An employer who did not respond to an underpayment claim of $8,000 made by a teenage worker has been ordered to pay him an additional $240,000 in penalties. The Federal Circuit Court Judge agreed with the worker’s submissions that by their demonstrated failure to engage with the court’s processes in this proceeding, his employer had shown an element of contempt for his claim.

A group of nine Virgin Australia pilots is suing the airline for approximately $2 million claiming that Virgin Australia committed to providing command positions or equivalent pay by mid-2016 entitling them to captains’ future salary increases under a new deal, regardless of whether they perform the role.

The FWC has upheld Sydney Star’s dismissing of a food and beverage server for serious misconduct who said he tapped a colleague’s bottom in an act of comradery, accused three workmates of entrapping him and threatened to ‘raise hell’ for his employer.

The FWC has granted a two-day extension for an aged care worker to file her unlawful dismissal claim after finding that the combination of five factors added up to exceptional circumstances – including the Christmas Eve deadline, her worsening bipolar disorder symptoms and the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Victorian public health service Austin Health has been sued by a group of 10 intensive care specialist doctors for more than $3 million in alleged underpayments plus compensation for humiliation and loss of enjoyment. A first case management hearing will be conducted on 26 March 2020.

Our Contributors

We have published an article about work entitlements during natural disasters and emergencies. The article outlines employers and employees’ rights in the midst of a natural disaster.

My colleague, Jessica Hatton, has written this month’s newsletter focusing on the recent underpayments scandals and the Federal Government’s proposal to criminalise wage theft.

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Emilie Riera

Emilie is a French qualified lawyer, with over 6 years' experience in the areas of business, contract, commercial, intellectual property law, litigation and dispute resolution. After relocating to Australia, Emilie graduated with a Diploma in Law from the NSW Legal Profession Admission Board and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW in November 2019, joining PCC Employment Lawyers in January 2020. Prior to her Australian admission, Emilie was employed as a Paralegal for three years with a law firm based in Sydney, looking after matters in commercial law, property law, succession matters and immigration law. Emilie has focused her studies in her interests in Business and Economics, having obtained from the University of Law in Aix-en-Provence, France, a Master Degree in Economic Law Research and a Master Degree in International Business Law.

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