Judge fines underpaying firm for ignoring FWO notice

Ombudsman says road freight second-highest for employment law disputes

Judge fines underpaying firm for ignoring FWO notice
Sandra Parker


Sapphire Freighters was fined $21,500 in a Federal Court case in which the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) gave evidence of a troubling road freight industry record, particularly in Victoria.

The case, over a failure to comply with an FWO compliance notice, followed a February court finding that Sapphire owed a truck driver $6,000.

The FWO had alleged Sapphire had paid a rate of pay per kilometre that was less than required under the Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award 2010, failed to pay an allowance to compensate the employee for taking rest breaks away from home, and breached the Fair Work Act by failing to pay out accrued annual leave on termination of the driver’s employment.

Sapphire had both refused to be involved in mediation, ignored an FWO compliance notice and, later, had given no evidence in court.

"The respondent is located in Victoria and operates in the road freight transport industry," Judge Patrizia Mercuri stated in her ruling.

"Material filed by the applicant suggests that this industry generates the second highest number of disputes which are dealt with by the FWO, has a significant number of employing businesses, of approximately 24,000 and there are more disputes referred to in this industry from Victoria that any other state or territory."

Read how the FWO’s case against Sapphire first surfaced, here

With the maximum penalty for such an employment law breach $31,500, the FWO had sought that a penalty of 60%-70% or between $18,900 and $22,050.

"Having regard to the circumstances of this matter, including the lack of participation by the respondent notwithstanding having been given numerous opportunities to do so, I find that it is appropriate when balancing all of the relevant considerations to impose a penalty of $21,500," the judge stated.

"In those circumstances, and in circumstances where a $6,000 underpayment is significant to the Employee who had only worked for the respondent for about one year, I am satisfied that a penalty of $21,500 is appropriate in all of the circumstances."

The Fair Work Ombudsman, Sandra Parker, said business operators that fail to act on compliance notices need to be aware they can face court-imposed penalties on top of their back-payments.

"When compliance notices are not followed, we are prepared to take legal action to ensure hard-working employees receive their lawful entitlements," she added.


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