A Queensland-based news media website company has been ordered to pay $570,000 in penalties and back pay after a court found it had deliberately exploited young journalists eager to get a start in the industry.
Touchpoint Media and its director Laurence Ward were penalised $264,924 and ordered to back pay staff a total of $305,780 for underpayments that happened between January 2015 and June 2016.
Four workers underpaid more than $30,000
The case ended up in the Federal Circuit Court following an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which found Touchpoint Media frequently underpaid, or failed to pay, staff for work performed at the company.
Four workers each had more than $30,000 in wages stolen, with the largest underpayment being $48,217.
Touchpoint Media employed mainly young journalists in their early 20s recruited straight from university, and were based either in Brisbane or moved to regional locations.
The company’s news websites covered regional Queensland areas such as Charleville, Charters Towers, Longreach and the Whitsundays.
Company sought out vulnerable young workers
Judge Tony Young found that “some of these employees were vulnerable and eager to obtain a job so as to enter the industry or the profession of journalism”.
“There is some evidence that Touchpoint especially sought out such employees,” Judge Young said.
“I am satisfied that there was an element of exploitation involved with young employees that would have been less likely to occur with older or more experienced 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.”
Court action appropriate
Industrial relations advocate Miles Heffernan from WAGETHEFT.net.au said he was pleased the Fair Work Ombudsman took action in this case.
“All too often the workplace watchdog wants to enter into cosy agreements with unscrupulous employers who steal from their workers, so I’m pleased to see they took this case all the way to court,” he said.
“The fact that this business stole so much money from their young and very keen staff just shows how easy it is for employers to commit wage theft – that’s why we’re calling for wage theft to be criminalised, so people like Mr Ward end up with a conviction and possibly even jail time for committing such large scale theft.
“Think about it, if one of Mr Ward’s staff members stole $300,000 from the office safe, they would be prosecuted and sent to jail – well, why shouldn’t the same thing happen to him?”
In addition to the underpayments, Mr Ward was also penalised for providing false records to Fair Work inspectors.
If you have not received your proper wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our specialist team at WAGETHEFT.net.au on
1300 1 THEFT (1300 184 338)
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