Touchpoint Media, which according to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) operates a number of websites providing news about regional Queensland, had underpaid four journalists more than $30,000 each – one by $48,217.
Some 23 journalists and production staff were collectively underpaid a total of $305,780, in the 18-month period between January 2015 and June 2016.
Judge Tony Young of the Federal Circuit Court said there was an element of exploitation in the underpayments, given “some of these employees were vulnerable and eager to obtain a job so as to enter the industry or the profession of journalism” and that “there is some evidence that Touchpoint especially sought out such employees”.
“As such, I am satisfied that the experience of employment by Touchpoint, and the consequent serious underpayment of many employees, was a bitter and humiliating experience,” he said.
The company was also found to have knowingly falsified PAYG records, to “significantly over-state” the amounts each employee had been paid, during an investigation by Fair Work auditors.
Judge Young said this was an “aggravating factor” in the situation, and that it “suggests a lack of contrition”.
Touchpoint was ordered to repay all 23 employees in full. In addition, the company was hit with penalties of $220,320 for the repeated breaches of workplace laws, while its director, Laurence Bernard Ward, was personally fined a further $44,604.
The FWO flagged its legal proceedings against Touchpoint Media back in August 2017. It had faced fines of more than $1 million if the maximum penalties had been imposed for every alleged breach.
Touchpoint Media’s website did not list any contact information or links to its publications when My Business visited the site (20 September 2018).
“Any employer tempted to underpay young workers for their own benefit should think again because we will do everything within our power to ensure such conduct is met with significant consequences,” Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said following the judgement.
“Requests for assistance from young workers are a high priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman. Younger people can be particularly vulnerable in the workplace if they are less aware of their rights or reluctant to complain.”