Graduate journalists at a regional media firm were allegedly underpaid by over $300,000, with the company now facing potential penalties of well over $1 million.
Queensland-based Touchpoint Media and its company director Laurence Bernard Ward are being taken to court by the Fair Work Ombudsman for allegedly underpaying a total of 23 young journalists to the tune of $305,780 between January 2015 and June 2016.
Many of the journalists were recruited straight from university. Some were based in a central Brisbane office, while others worked in regional areas of Queensland where the company’s publications were based.
Four of the journalists were allegedly underpaid by more than $30,000 each, and one by $48,217.
In addition to the underpayments, the ombudsman alleged Touchpoint Media knowlingly provided false PAYG records that significantly overstated the amounts its employees were being paid.
“Allegations regarding inexperienced young workers who are committed to working hard to build careers is extremely disappointing and cannot be tolerated,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.
“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.”
Recent actions by the Fair Work Ombudsman have tended to be targeted towards foreign workers, such as a Victorian fruit farmer hiring Malaysian fruitpickers, however this instance demonstrates that all businesses are open to being prosecuted for underpaying workers.
Given that company and individual penalties of up to $54,000 and $10,800 respectively apply for each contravention, Touchpoint Media and Mr Ward face the prospect of combined fines worth well over $1 million if found guilty of all allegations.