Caltex franchisee fined over wage records

woolworths caltex petrolA former Caltex franchisee has been fined almost $100,000 for falsifying wage records.

The penalty comes just a few months after a Fair Work Ombudsman report found three quarters of Caltex sites were breaching workplace laws.

In this most recent example, Peter Dagher and his company Aulion Pty Ltd, who formerly operated the Caltex Five Dock service station, have been fined $16,038 and $80,190.

In Court, Dagher and his company admitted they had falsified documents and records, and unlawfully made use of the documents and records by providing them to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The penalties are 90 percent of the possible maximum, and are the highest the Fair Work Ombudsman has secured in legal action relating to record-keeping and pay slip breaches.

But if the breaches had occurred today the penalties could have been more significant, following the introduction of harsher penalties.

“Financial penalties for failing to keep records and issue pay slips have significantly increased and any unscrupulous employer… can now face prosecution in criminal court,” said Natalie James, Fair Work Ombudsman.

“A reverse onus of proof can also now apply, meaning that employers who don’t meet meet record-keeping or pay slip obligations and can’t give a reasonable excuse will need to disprove allegations of underpayments made in a court.”

The investigation into the Five Dock outlet began in 2016 as part of a self-initiated compliance activity involving audits of 25 Caltex service stations nationally in response to concerns about underpayments.

Just before the FWO announced its findings earlier this year Caltex announced that it would be moving away from franchising.

The listed business will spend $100 – $120 million over the next three years buying back its network of convenience sites.

It said it was doing this to reflect the increasing emphasis it was placing on its convenience business as it looks to adjust earnings drivers in its business.

Earlier this month Caltex said its buy-backs were progressing, with 230 site transitions in the works since 2H17.

“Caltex has been and continues to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) who investigated some Caltex-franchised sites,” a Caltex spokesperson told Inside Retail.

“The operator who was the subject of the legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman left the Caltex network in 2017 prior to this step by the FWO.

“In mid 2016 we established an audit process which is more than halfway through and continues with the purpose of uncovering wage underpayment in the Caltex franchisee network.

“Also, an independently run whistleblower hotline was introduced along with an assistance fund for franchisee employees who have been affected by the conduct of certain of our franchisees. The fund has paid out $5.3 million to former employees of franchisees since it was established.

“In March the FWO issued a report on the 25 Caltex franchise sites it audited around a year ago [and] of these, two were facing further action from the FWO with regard to falsifying documentation and this judgement is related to one of those franchisees.”

UPDATE: 2.30 pm, to include comment from a Caltex spokesperson.

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