Six workers at a meat processing plant at Casino, in regional NSW, have been reimbursed almost $43,000 after they were wrongly stood down for two months on annual leave and leave without pay.
An investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found the conduct of the employer, Seine Australia Pty Ltd, contravened the stand-down provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009.
Seine’s factory at Casino processes left-over meat and offal products from abattoirs into powder and liquid products that are exported as seasoning and stock.
On 4 June 2013, employees were called to a meeting and told that because the factory was over-stocked, it would be closing temporarily from 5 June until 5 August.
Workers were told that they would be placed on stand down and paid annual leave, long service leave or leave without pay.
A number of the affected employees later contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fair Work inspectors firstly determined that some employees, who had been getting paid $16 an hour for all hours worked, were receiving less than their minimum lawful entitlements, when the minimum rate of pay for a level 4 meat industry worker was $16.70 an hour from July, 2012 and $17.37 from July, 2013.
Secondly, inspectors found that employees working the night shift were only getting a 15 per cent allowance, when it should have been 21 per cent from July, 2012 and 23 per cent from July, 2013.
Finally, the Fair Work Ombudsman determined that the employees were entitled to be paid wages they would otherwise have received for ordinary hours worked had they not been stood down for two months.
They employees should also have been credited with annual leave entitlements during the stand-down period.
Contraventions in relation to employment records were also identified. Employees were required to “clock” on and off at the start and finish of their shift, but the company did not retain individual employee records, as required.
Seine Australia first came to the attention of the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2009 when it found the company had underpaid 35 employees more than $116,000.
Those outstanding entitlements were rectified by agreement and no further enforcement action was initiated against the company.
Seine Australia has again co-operated with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to the latest breaches, and agreed to sign an Enforceable Undertaking.
The Enforceable Undertaking required the company to reimburse all outstanding entitlements and issue a written apology to the affected employees expressing its “sincere regret” for its conduct.
The company also committed to a number of measures to ensure future compliance with Commonwealth workplace laws.
These include undertaking workplace relations training on employee entitlements under the Fair Work Act and to engaging independent, external consultants to review and report on its compliance each year for the next three years.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the matter should serve as a timely reminder to all employers of the importance of understanding stand-down provisions in circumstances where the business needs to close temporarily.