The director, Brendan Paul Angus, has been ordered to pay penalties of $29,529 and his company, G.Q. Industries, to pay $147,645 for breaching the Fair Work Act by enabling apprentice underpayments.
The Federal Circuit Court heard that not only did G.Q. Industries fail to pay a range of minimum entitlements owed under the Building and Construction General On-site Award 2010, it took adverse action by refusing one apprentice work or pay for 11 weeks as punishment for taking two days of sick leave.
The Fair Work Ombudsman explained that the full-time apprentices, aged between 17 and 20 during the course of their employment, usually worked six days per week including overtime when working at Brisbane construction sites between September 2013 and June 2015.
They were owed base rates for some ordinary hours, Saturday penalty rates, overtime rates, public holiday pay, annual and personal leave entitlements, safety net contractual entitlements and travel entitlements.
On top of that, Mr Angus punished one apprentice for taking sick leave, despite providing a doctor’s certificate.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the penalties should send a clear message that exploitation of apprentices was unacceptable.
“It is unlawful for employers to take adverse action against a worker for exercising their workplace rights, such as taking sick leave, and we will consider enforcement action whenever this is found,” Ms Parker said.
“We also treat breaches involving young workers, including apprentices, particularly seriously as they are often vulnerable as they start their careers. Any young workers with concerns should contact us.”
The court further found that laws relating to frequency of pay, record keeping and payslips were also breached. The company failed to provide any payslips to one of the apprentices for 16 months.
Judge Gregory Egan said the contravening conduct was “deliberate” and “could not be viewed as isolated”.
“The contraventions were serious. They were committed against young and vulnerable employees,” Judge Egan said.
“The penalties imposed reflect the need for employers, and the persons controlling the employers, to recognise that the provisions of the [Fair Work Act] relating to the payment of employees must be obeyed.”
The company back-paid the two apprentices after court action was commenced.