Court action after young journalists allegedly underpaid more than $300,000
A company that operates news websites covering regional Queensland is facing the Federal Circuit Court for allegedly underpaying 23 young journalists more than $300,000 over a period of less than 18 months.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action against Touchpoint Media Pty Ltd, as well as company director, Laurence Bernard Ward.
Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors commenced an investigation of Touchpoint Media after workers lodged requests for assistance.
It is alleged inspectors found the company had frequently underpaid or failed to pay journalists for work which appeared on several regionally aligned news websites owned by another company related to Mr Ward. The websites covered the regional Queensland areas of Charters Towers, Charleville, Goondiwindi, Longreach, Maranoa, Redland and Whitsundays.
It is alleged that in total, Touchpoint Media underpaid 23 journalists $305,780 between January 2015 and June 2016.
Some of the journalists were in their early 20s and recruited straight out of university.
Some were based at a central location in Brisbane, with others based in the regional areas covered by the websites.
The workers variously performed a range of duties associated with generating online stories and other content and promoting the websites.
It is alleged that four of the journalists were underpaid more than $30,000 each, with the largest alleged underpayment of an individual journalist being $48,217.
Touchpoint Media and Mr Ward allegedly also contravened workplace laws during the investigation by knowingly providing false PAYG records to Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors that significantly over-stated the amounts employees had been paid.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says a decision was made to commence legal action because of the alleged blatant underpayment of young workers, which had not been rectified.
"Allegations regarding inexperienced young workers who are committed to working hard to build careers is extremely disappointing and cannot be tolerated," Ms James said.
"Employers should be aware that we treat exploitation of young workers very seriously because they can be more vulnerable in the workplace. Young workers are often less aware of their rights or are often reluctant to complain if they think something is wrong."
Touchpoint Media Pty Ltd faces penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention, while Mr Ward faces penalties of up to $10,800 per contravention.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is seeking a Court Order for the company and Mr Ward to be jointly liable for back-paying the workers in full.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking Orders requiring the company to commission an external audit of its compliance and rectify any underpayments found; commission workplace relations training for Mr Ward; and to display a workplace notice detailing workers' rights and alerting employees to the Fair Work Ombudsman's Record My Hours app.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has released the 'Record My Hours' app aimed at tackling the persistent problem of underpayment of young workers and migrant workers around the country. The app, which equips workers with a record of the time they spend at their workplace by using geofencing technology to register when they arrive at work and when they leave, is available for download from iTunes or Google Play stores.
The matter is listed for a penalty hearing in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane in March 2018.
Employers and employees can seek assistance from the Fair Work ombudsman at www.fairwork.gov.au or by contacting the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.
Sign up to receive the Fair Work Ombudsman’s media releases direct to your email inbox at www.fairwork.gov.au/mediareleases.
Ryan Pedler, Assistant Director - Media
Mobile: 0411 430 902