Major service station chain Westside Petroleum and three of its management staff have been penalised $57,000 in court for underpaying employees at sites across regional NSW.
In a statement released by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on Friday, 22 employees were underpaid a total of $62,393 at 12 petrol stations, including at Peak Hill and Blayney, between July 2015 and May 2016.
The other stations are in Adaminaby, Wagga Wagga, Finley, Gurley, Lismore, Somerton, Temora, Tolland, Glen Innes and Cooma.
Westside Petroleum Retail 1 Pty Ltd has been penalised $45,000, and general manager Patrick Riad, company accountant Francesco Ieraci and area manager Shahzaib Khawaja have each been penalised $4000 in the Federal Circuit Court.
FWO said Westside Petroleum paid employees unlawfully low, flat rates ranging from $15 to $25 an hour, which fall below employees' casual weekday, weekend, public holiday and overtime rates under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award.
FWO Sandra Parker said the matter serves as a warning to employers about paying flat rates rather than applying the relevant Award.
"The Fair Work Ombudsman has been highlighting for many years that the use of low, flat rates that undercut lawful minimums is a clear breach of workplace laws," she said.
"Any employer paying their staff with flat rates less than the relevant minimum rate faces enforcement action. Any employees with concerns about their pay should contact us."
Inspectors audited Westside Petroleum following requests for assistance from employees.
"The 22 affected service station workers were underpaid amounts ranging from $347 to $7772, with four of the employees aged just 19 at the time," the statement read.
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"Two affected workers were visa holders with one employee on a 489 regional sponsored visa. All employees have been back-paid in full."
In court, Judge Robert Cameron found that the underpayments were deliberate and said they were "not insignificant", with some employees underpaid about $1000 per month.
"The commercial imperative to seize new business opportunities can explain distraction from issues of compliance but it does not excuse it," Judge Cameron said when addressing Westside Petroleum's submission that it was rapidly expanding at the time.
"It is unacceptable that Westside Petroleum focused on the growth of its business and failed to have proper regard to very basic employer obligations."
Judge Cameron ordered the company to provide its franchisees with information about workplace laws and display workplace notices providing information on workplace laws.
Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94
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