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Record penalties of more than $500,000 for exploiting foreign workers

A former Perth petrol tycoon, his wife and his cleaning company have been slammed with a record fine of more than $500,000 after a judge penalized them for their “deliberate”, “repeated” and “systematic” exploitation of vulnerable overseas workers.

Ex-petrol tycoon Mark Povey has been penalised $72,240, his wife was fined $77,400  and the contract cleaning company they operate, Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group Pty Ltd, has been penalised $361,200.

The Federal Circuit Court imposed total fines of $510,840 over the exploitation of three overseas workers.

These are the highest penalties secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman in a legal action in WA and the third highest penalties secured by the Agency in any case nationally.

The workers were underpaid a total of $11,511 for various periods of work between June, 2012 and April, 2013.

They come after the Fair Work Ombudsman secured penalties totalling $343,860 in 2013 against Ms Paino-Povey and another cleaning company she operated with Mr Povey for deliberately exploiting local and overseas workers in Perth.

In his judgment on the most recent case, Judge Antoni Lucev criticised Ms Paino-Povey and Mr Povey, saying they were jointly responsible for managing the operations of both Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group and the company penalised in 2013 and that the exploitation of workers in both cases “demonstrate similar circumstances and a similar mode of operation”.

One of the workers was paid just 34 per cent of what she was entitled to for two months’ work. She gave evidence that because of the underpayments, totalling $5106, she had to borrow money from a friend and only ate one meal a day to be able to pay her rent.

Another worker was paid nothing for three days’ work despite being lawfully entitled to a minimum of $569. She gave evidence that she needed the money to pay for her rent and expenses and felt she had been taken advantage of as an overseas worker.

The third worker was paid only about half of what she was entitled to over a three-month period, resulting in a total underpayment of $5836.

The underpayments remain outstanding and, in addition to the penalties, Judge Lucev has ordered full-back-payment of the workers.

Judge Lucev also found that they had shown “no contrition” and displayed “no evidence of corrective action” and “no cooperation with the Court or the regulator”.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says repeated and blatant exploitation of vulnerable overseas workers is abhorrent conduct that will not be tolerated.

“It is extremely frustrating to encounter such callous, recidivist exploitative conduct in the community,” Ms James said.

“The outcome of this case sends a clear message to operators that there are serious consequences for exploiting vulnerable workers. Lawful minimum pay rates apply to all employees in Australia and they are not negotiable.

“It is clear that others share our frustrations with the courts increasingly ordering larger penalties, particularly in cases involving the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

Ms James says the Fair Work Ombudsman would continue to conduct proactive compliance and enforcement activity aimed at addressing non-compliance issues within the cleaning industry nationally.

Employers and employees can visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations in the workplace.

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