A group of service station workers say they have been ripped off by a wage theft class action.
The employees claim they received just a fraction of what they are owed – and what they were promised by Adero Law, reports The Advertiser.
Employment law experts said the case is a warning to seek independent advice before agreeing to be part of a class action.
Service station workers ripped off by class action
Adero Law made headlines in 2020 when it announced it was filing $70 million wage theft claim.
The firm took the action on behalf of 2000 current and former employees against Shahin Enterprises.
The company ran the OTR petrol and convenience store chain in South Australia.
The service station operators required staff to perform unpaid work prior to and after rostered shifts.
They also failed to pay proper penalty rates and allow for rostered meal breaks.
Despite Adero’s promises of a $70 million payout, the firm settled the case for just $5.8 million – taking $1.6 million in fees.
Shannon Riddell told The Advertiser that Adero had sent her an email stating she was going to receive $69,000 as part of the settlement.
“I was planning on buying a new car for my mother who is currently going through chemo,’’ she said.
However, later that same day, Shannon received another email stating that the $69,000 figure was a mistake, and she would instead be receiving just $4,600.
“It didn’t seem much recompense for not being paid properly for 50-hour weeks, night shifts with no penalty rates, acting as a manager and working through breaks,” she said.
Tamara Coker wants to know why Adero settled so easily.
“Why would they settle for such a small amount? It just frustrates me,’’ she said. “I just don’t think they were prepared at all.’’
A number of other workers also contacted The Advertiser.
One promised payout shrunk to $3000 from $117,000, while another dropped to $2360 from more than $130,000.
“When I first saw the $131,000 figure I straight away thought of the house deposit I could put down to be able to move out of my parent’s house where I’ve been living since I got divorced,’’ one person said.
Gives lawyers a bad name
Lawyer Kellie Pledger worked for Adero on the case and told The Advertiser that “to read that it settled for around 10 per cent of the lower end of that scale is very concerning’’.
Pledger, who no longer works for Adero and is in legal dispute with the firm, said this is “the sort of situation that gives all lawyers a bad name and that is such a shame’,” she said.
“The class action had the potential to effect real change for working class South Australians, who relied on their legal representative for protection and advocacy.
“Those group members have been left feeling broken and exploited once again.”
Federal Court Justice Natalie Charlesworth said the settlement amount “could, at best, be described as modest’’.
Justice Charlesworth had earlier described Adero’s push for the court to accept the $5.8 million settlement as “extraordinary’’ because it had run out of funds to run the trial.
Seek expert advice
Meanwhile, employment law expert Miles Heffernan said class actions are not always the best way to recover stolen wages.
“Class actions work on an opt-out basis,” he said
“That means if you receive an email from a law firm telling you they are launching a class action, you have to respond by opting-out.”
Mr Heffernan advised workers who receive a notice about a class action to seek urgent independent advice.
“Sometimes it’s better to file your own claim with your own representatives,” he said.
Mr Heffernan pointed to the case of another OTR employee who took his own legal action to recover his stolen wages.
The South Australian Employment Tribunal awarded him $64,800.
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An Adero Law spokesman blamed a “computer glitch’’ for the incorrect emails, according to The Advertiser.
He said the firm always acts in the best interests of its clients.
He further denied that the first figure the firm’s clients received reflected the true amount owed.
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