Compliance partnership back on the table after petrol retailers short-change international students

31 August 2016 

Fuel retailer United Petroleum is being encouraged to enter a compliance partnership with the Fair Work Ombudsman to help ensure workers at hundreds of petrol stations are being paid properly.

Random audits of 11 United Petroleum outlets found that six were breaching workplace laws, including underpaying staff by thousands of dollars.

In two cases, the underpaid employees – who worked as console operators – were international students from India and Bangladesh with no understanding of their workplace rights.

The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced investigations into United Petroleum after media reports late last year alleged some employees were being paid as little as $10 an hour.

United Petroleum Pty Ltd is an Australian-owned company with 338 sites nationally operated by franchisees and commission agents.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says her inspectors randomly selected 11 sites for auditing and commenced their investigations in late September, 2015.

She says 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.

Ms James says the offer was made following an earlier meeting with the Franchise Council of Australia, which expressed confidence that its members were keen to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure and promote compliance with workplace laws – and give the broader community greater confidence that their commitment to compliance was both sincere and real.

United Petroleum did not respond.

Ms James says a final report on the findings of the Agency’s investigations of the 11 United Petroleum outlets is nearing completion and will be publicly released when it is concluded.

However, 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.

Ms James says that as a result, Fair Work Ombudsman 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.*

A number of well-known brands have entered into compliance partnerships, including McDonalds, Domino’s, La Porchetta, the Coffee Club and Groove Train.

Ms James says the partnerships provide an opportunity for businesses to promote their brand to the public in a positive light, and to assure their employees, competitors and customers that they take compliance seriously.

The partnerships are underpinned by a Proactive Compliance Deed which formalises the commitment of both the business and the Fair Work Ombudsman to work together to promote and ensure compliance.

The two United Petroleum operators already facing enforcement action are AAR DEE Traders Pty Ltd, which runs the fuel outlet at 876 Main North Road Pooraka, South Australia, and E Tannous and V Tannous, who previously ran the outlet at 941 Bourke Street, Waterloo, NSW.

Both operators have signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance with federal workplace laws.

Enforceable Undertakings were introduced by legislation in 2009 and the Fair Work Ombudsman has been using them to achieve strong outcomes against companies that breach workplace laws without the need for civil court proceedings.

“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,” says Ms James

United Petroleum Pooraka was found to have underpaid five Indian students a total of $2032 between August 3 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.

However, under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award 2010, the casual workers should have received $25.05 Monday to Friday and $32.56 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Both operators have co-operated with the Fair Work Ombudsman and agreed to reimburse outstanding wages and entitlements and take steps to ensure their future compliance with their workplace obligations.

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.

“If someone suspects something isn’t right, but is unable or unwilling to get directly involved in resolving the issue, they can tell us about it using this new form,” Ms James said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman also offers an interpreter service for non-English speaking employees who may be concerned their workplace rights have been compromised, and they can call 13 14 50.

Information to assist people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds has been translated into 27 languages and is available on the website.

The Agency also has fact sheets tailored to overseas workers and international students on the website and YouTube videos in 14 languages to assist workers to understand their workplace rights.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT) provides advice about pay, shift, leave and redundancy entitlements. Visit www.calculate.fairwork.gov.au to learn more.

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.

*Late yesterday, legal representatives acting for United Petroleum advised the Fair Work Ombudsman in writing that the company was prepared to meet with the Agency later this year to further discuss the idea of a compliance partnership and explore the potential benefits. 

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Media inquiries:

Eithne Johnston, Media Adviser
Mobile: 0439 835 855
eithne.johnston@fwo.gov.au

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