Victorian telecommunications provider, Sprint Telco, has been ordered to pay thousands of dollars to a former worker after a legal battle in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Melbourne.
A former contractor to the Melbourne-based company, which is a reseller of landline, mobile and internet services, filed an application on 8 May 2017 seeking payment to recoup underpayments of wages to the tune of nearly $6,000 along with unpaid superannuation entitlements.
According to court documents, not only was the former employee allegedly not paid in full, but a director of the company, Blake Griffiths, allegedly threatened to expose the employee to the Immigration Department.
According to court documents, Griffiths has been a director of Sprint Telco since February 2017.
The case, which was heard at the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Melbourne, relates to work performed by the employee for Sprint Telco between March 2016 and July 2016.
The former employee is a Colombian citizen, who was subject to a student visa, which limited her entitlements to work to 40 hours per fortnight.
The employee was offered work with the company at the rate of $20 per hour, under the understanding that she would be treated as an Australian employee and paid in accordance with the Australian system governing local employees.
Initially, the employee was paid in accordance with the arrangement, but subsequently the payments allegedly became less frequent, according to a statement by Federal Circuit Court Judge, Alister McNab.
The former employee gave sworn evidence to the court that she was allegedly not paid between June 2016 and July 2016. On one occasion, she was paid by cheque, but the cheque allegedly bounced.
Other people in the company’s Melbourne office included international students or applicants for permanent residence who were subject to work restrictions on their visas.
According to the court, the former employee gave evidence that they were all allegedly paid by cash and had not been paid for all the work that they had performed.
“The most disturbing aspect of this case is the evidence of what occurred when the applicant sought payment of outstanding wages,” Judge McNab said in his judgment on the case, handed down on 17 May.
“The applicant gave evidence that she overheard Blake Griffiths speaking in a loud voice in the workplace to a person who she understood was in India,” McNab said. “She said that Mr Griffiths was pretending to be a policeman and talking to a person in India about another person who had posted a Facebook post stating that Sprint Telco did not pay their employees."
According to McNab, the applicant gave evidence that Griffiths had also allegedly said, about a worker who had complained about non-payment of wages, that he would plant cocaine in her bags and report her to the police.
“The claims which I have just referred to are alarming, but on the evidence of the applicant, I accept that those statements were made,” McNab stated.
The court also revealed a series of messages allegedly sent between Griffiths and the former employee.
“Just remember that u were only allowed to work 20 hours a week I believe you worked more than 20 hours maybe I should give immigration a call and let them know what has happened,” Griffiths allegedly wrote to the employee after she asked for her wages to be paid by the company.
According to McNab, as of 19 May, the employee had not been paid either in respect of wages and superannuation entitlements, and neither the company nor its directors had cooperated in regards to the legal proceedings.
“The allegations which I have found to be proven in relation to the conduct of the company and Mr Griffiths are very serious ones and indicate conduct which involves a scheme of exploiting vulnerable employees, in particular, reasonably young international students who are working in Australia subject to work restrictions on their visas,” McNab said.
“It would appear that the conduct is part of a business plan. I am also conscious that both the applicant and respondent were participating in a scheme to effectively defeat the visa restrictions imposed on the applicant and where tax is not being deducted from the amounts paid to the applicant,” he said.
Having heard the evidence, McNab said he was persuaded that the applicant’s claim should be “made out”.
“Accordingly, the court makes orders in the terms sought by the applicant. Other standards of employment were not observed by the respondent,” he said.
McNab also said that, in his view, the evidence would support a finding that a “substantial penalty” would be due to be imposed on the Sprint Telco and its directors if the matter was heard in the Fair Work list - via the Fair Work Commission.
As it stands, however, the case remained with the Federal Court.
McNab ruled that Sprint Telco had contravened the provisions of the Telecommunications Services Award 2010, and ordered the company to pay the former employee the over $7,000 in entitlements.
ARN was unable to contact Griffiths or a representative for Sprint Telco at the time of publication.
Article updated on 5 June to reflect that the case was heard at the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Melbourne, not the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne.