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Australian petrol chain accused of underpaying 22 workers

A man pumps petrol at a service station in Melbourne, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

A petrol station chain will be hauled to court for allegedly underpaying 22 staff at 12 stores across NSW.

The Fair Work Ombudsman started an investigation after complaints from staff working for Westside Petroleum Retail 1 Pty Ltd.

The ombudsman claims the company underpaid staff between July 2015 and May 2016 at 12 different service stations – Adaminaby, Wagga Wagga, Finley, Gurley, Lismore, Somerton, Temora, Tolland, Blayney, Glen Innes, Peak Hill and Cooma.

The 22 alleged victims included four 19-year-olds and three working in Australia on visas.

The company allegedly told staff they’d be paid a net rate of $18 per hour, even though the adult industry award rate is $25.05 on weekdays and $32.56 on weekends. There were also alleged underpayments of casual public holiday and overtime rates.

One staff member was owed as much as $7,772.

“It is unlawful for employers to pay their employees low, flat rates that undercut minimum award wage rates, and those who rely on an unlawful ‘going rate’ can be left with a major back-payment bill and face significant penalties,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

As well as Westside Petroleum, the ombudsman is also taking three managers to the Federal Circuit Court – general manager Patrick Riad, company accountant Francesco Ieraci and area manager Shahzaib Khawaja – accusing them of being involved in the rort.

The three management staff each face up to a $10,800 penalty per contravention, while Westside is up for a maximum of $54,000 per contravention. The hearing is scheduled for 12th April in Sydney.

While many Westside outlets are franchisee-owned, the court case is specifically about 12 stores that are company-owned.

Even migrant workers can raise concerns with the ombudsman without fear of having their visas cancelled, due to an agreement with the department of home affairs.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has no tolerance for the underpayment of any workers. We encourage any workers with concerns about their pay to contact us for free advice,” said Parker.

If the ombudsman wins the case, it will push for Westside to be forced to notify all staff of the legal outcome, the requirement of the company and franchisees to pay the industry award rate, the current award rates and the potential for civil action if they don’t comply.

The ombudsman stated that all affected employees have now been back-paid.

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