Penalties worth close to $100,000 have been slapped on a former Caltex franchisee who falsified a range of employment records, in an apparent bid to cover a series of wage underpayments.
Peter Dagher and his business Aulion formerly operated the Caltex outlet at Five Dock in Sydney’s inner west, which was audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in 2016 as part of a compliance blitz on 25 Caltex petrol stations across the country.
Under the audit, Mr Dagher and Aulion were required to produce a range of documentation, including employee pay slips and earnings summaries, employment contracts and time and wage records for six migrant employees, five of whom were international students.
The documents tendered by Mr Dagher failed to satisfy the FWO, and so it embarked on more thorough investigations by summoning documents from his business’ accountant, bank and a superannuation fund.
These documents were inconsistent with the ones originally supplied, leading the FWO to announce in December 2017 that it planned to prosecute Mr Dagher and Aulion for falsifying wage records.
Having admitted to falsifying documents in the Federal Circuit Court, Aulion was fined $80,190 and Mr Dagher was personally fined a further $16,038. The fines are close to the maximum penalties that could be handed down by the court, and are the highest to be issued in actions brought by the FWO relating to pay slip and record-keeping offences.
However, Ombudsman Natalie James noted that as the offences took place in 2016, they were prosecuted under previous rules. Had the offences taken place since the new sanctions came into force from September 2017 under the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017, the penalties would have been even harsher.
“Financial penalties for failing to keep records and issue pay slips have significantly increased and any unscrupulous employer that frustrates a Fair Work Ombudsman time-and-wages investigation by using false records can now face prosecution in criminal court,” said Ms James.
“A reverse onus of proof can also now apply, meaning that employers who don’t meet record-keeping or pay slip obligations and can’t give a reasonable excuse will need to disprove allegations of underpayments made in a court.”
A separate claim against another Caltex franchisee is currently before the courts.
Earlier this year, Caltex announced that it will abandon its franchise model and move to bring all sites back under company control by mid-2020.
It follows comprehensive investigations by the FWO into its franchisees, which suggested there was a non-compliance rate of 76 per cent across the network.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
Ask the Experts: Does automation stack up financially?
By Christopher Overton
Opinion: How bad do things have to get?!
By Adam Zuchetti
Business lessons from the All Blacks
By Steve Stanley