Injunction sought after retailer allegedly ignores requests to rectify underpayment of workers

 26 June 2015

The Fair Work Ombudsman has taken the rare step of seeking an injunction restraining a retail operator from underpaying her employees.

The move – in the Federal Circuit Court – comes after the Agency received further complaints from young, vulnerable workers.

Facing legal action is Melbourne woman Deborah Ruth Souris, who owned and ran Kenny’s Cardiology and Giftology House specialty card and giftware stores in Melbourne and Brisbane, before selling the Kenny’s Cardiology stores in 2014.

Ms Souris allegedly failed to respond to three Compliance Notices requesting back-pay for five former employees who had been underpaid a total of $11,187.

If the Fair Work Ombudsman is successful with the injunction, Ms Souris could potentially face contempt of court proceedings for any further underpayments proven in Court.

The injunction is being sought in response to concerns that complaints from employees of businesses Ms Souris has been involved in suggest a pattern of non-compliant behaviour.

Since 2007, the Fair Work Ombudsman has been contacted by more than 40 employees concerned about underpayment of wages who worked for companies of which Ms Souris was a director.

The matter is listed for a directions hearing in the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on July 23.

It is only the second time the Fair Work Ombudsman has sought such an injunction.

The first case was successful, with the Federal Circuit Court penalising NSW hair dressing salon operator Nelvin Litesh Lal and his businesses $162,000 for underpaying staff, and issuing an Order restraining Lal from underpaying any hairdressing employees in the future.  

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that a manager at a store previously operated by Ms Souris in the Brisbane CBD was allegedly underpaid $7190.

Four other employees at stores in Narre Warren, Cheltenham and Maribyrnong, in Melbourne, were also underpaid smaller amounts.

Under the Fair Work Act, business operators must comply with Compliance Notices issued by Fair Work inspectors or make a court application for a review if they wish to challenge a Notice.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says inspectors made extensive efforts to engage with Ms Souris before placing the matter before Court.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to secure sufficient co-operation and the alleged underpayments have not been rectified,” she said today.

Ms Souris is facing maximum penalties of $5100 per contravention for three alleged contraventions of workplace laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman will seek a Court Order that any penalties be paid to the employees to rectify the alleged underpayments.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has a range of free tools available at www.fairwork.gov.au to help employers comply with workplace laws.

Online tools include calculators to assist employers and employees determine the correct award and minimum wages for their industry, templates for time-and-wages records and an Online Learning Centre with free interactive courses.

There are also Best Practice Guides on a range of topics, including an employer’s guide to employing young workers.

Ms James says the Fair Work Ombudsman is making compliance easier for businesses by continually building on the information available on its website.

“Small businesses often don’t have the benefit of in-house human resources and payroll staff, so we place a high priority on assisting them,” she said.

“Equipping people with the information they need helps to create fair and productive workplaces, as well as ensuring a level playing field for all.”

Employers and employees seeking assistance can also contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50.

Follow Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James on Twitter @NatJamesFWO external-icon.png, the Fair Work Ombudsman @fairwork_gov_au External link icon or find us on Facebook www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au External link icon.

Sign up to receive the Fair Work Ombudsman’s media releases direct to your email inbox at www.fairwork.gov.au/mediareleases.

Media inquiries:

Ryan Pedler, Assistant Media Director
Mobile: 0411 430 902
ryan.pedler@fwo.gov.au

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