Melbourne fruit & vegetable workers to share half-million dollar back-pay

14 March 2011

A Melbourne fruit and vegetable retailer has agreed to back-pay 265 current and former staff after an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found the workers were inadvertently underpaid more than $464,000 over two years.

The underpaid employees worked at stores in Doncaster, Malvern, Chadstone, Eastland and Forest Hill under the trading name Colonial Fruit Co. and Colonial Fresh Markets.

Fair Work Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell says the largest individual underpayment is $12,697.

“Underpaid superannuation, payroll tax and workers’ compensation payments take the total amount owed by the employer to more than $544,200,” he said.

The operator of the stores, CFC Retail Pty Ltd, has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman - a tool the regulator is now using as an alternative to litigation - which provides for all underpaid workers to be fully reimbursed.

The workers were underpaid between July, 2007 and June, 2009 after a Collective Agreement drawn up by CFC was neither lodged with nor approved by the former Workplace Authority.

As a result, staff should have been paid under the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association - Victorian Shops Interim Award 2000, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association - Victorian Shops Interim (Roping in No 1) Award 2003 and the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard.

In a letter of apology to staff, CFC directors have expressed their “sincere regret” at the breach of workplace law and given a commitment that such conduct will not occur again.

Mr Campbell says the Enforceable Undertaking requires CFC to:

  • Report within 28 days on the details of systems and processes it has implemented to ensure ongoing compliance with workplace laws,
  • Place an advertisement in the Melbourne press explaining the underpayment and steps taken to rectify the contravention,
  • Run paid staff meetings to explain the situation to affected employees and invite a Fair Work Ombudsman representative to explain the agreement,
  • Engage external specialist consultants to audit the company’s compliance with workplace laws each year for the next three years, and
  • Report to the Fair Work Ombudsman every four months for the next year on attempts it has made to contact former employees who were underpaid.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has a number of tools on its website - www.fairwork.gov.au - to assist employees and employers.

Online resources include payslip and record-keeping templates, a self-audit checklist and fact sheets.

The ‘Industries’ section on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website provides information specifically tailored for employers and workers in the retail, cleaning, clerical, hair and beauty, security, horticulture, fast food and hospitality industries.

Small to medium-sized businesses without human resources staff can also ensure they are better equipped when hiring, managing and dismissing employees by using free template employment documentation with step-by-step instructions or accessing a series of Best Practice Guides.

Employers or employees seeking assistance or further information can also contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 from 8am-6pm weekdays. A free interpreter service is also available on 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Ryan Pedler, Senior Adviser, Media & Stakeholder Relations
(03) 9954 2561, 0411 430 902
ryan.pedler@fwo.gov.au

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