A remorseless trolley collection services operator has been hit with $130,000 in penalties after he refused to pay three workers unfair dismissal compensation that was ordered by the Fair Work Commission.
William Hancock and his company WCH Services Pty Ltd were accused of causing “financial and emotional hardship” to the workers by the Federal Circuit Court, for sacking them and failing to pay them a total of $22,800 compensation.
Hancock, whose company provided trolley collecting services in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, was penalised $22,680 and his company an additional $113,400.
He failed to pay compensation amounts of $17,392 and $4,446 to two employees unfairly dismissed in 2015, and $962 to a third worker unfairly dismissed in 2016.
One worker gave evidence that it took him seven months to find alternative employment after he was dismissed, while another gave evidence that he has remained unemployed since he was dismissed in 2016.
The other worker told the court that he had to undertake further education to improve his employment prospects and had relocated to Queensland due to financial pressures.
Penalties are not discretionary
Employment lawyer and seconded consultant George Calderon from Industrial Relations Claims said paying penalties ordered by a court or commission is not optional.
“Penalties ordered by the Fair Work Commission are not discretionary,” he said.
“If you choose to ignore an order from the Commission to pay compensation, you’re going to end up with an even bigger bill, which is exactly what happened in this case.
“Instead of paying compensation to his employees of $22,800, Mr Hancock now has to pay that, plus an additional $130,000, and on top of that, court costs of $12,491.
“Employers should consider an order from the Commission as extremely serious, that must be complied with, otherwise they’ll face serious consequences.”
What the court said
In the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Norah Hartnett found that Hancock and his company had caused the three workers “actual financial and emotional hardship” by the contraventions which she said were “deliberate”.
“The Respondents have demonstrated no contrition or corrective action, in particular any action taken by the corporation to correct its illegal approach and change its behaviour,” she said.
Judge Hartnett said that the penalties she imposed were aimed at deterring Mr Hancock and others from refusing to comply with Fair Work Commission orders.
“Any penalty imposed by the Court is required to resonate with the Respondents’ such that they do not engage in any future non-compliance of workplace laws,” Judge Hartnett said.
In addition to the penalties, she ordered Hancock and his company to pay $12,491 in Fair Work Ombudsman legal costs.
In total, Hancock and his company will now be out of pocket $165,291.
Previously, former cafe operator Theo Sourlos who once owned the ‘Three Beans and a Chef’ cafe in Townsville was penalised $54,000 for refusing to pay $6,200 in Fair Work Commission ordered compensation to a worker who was unfairly dismissed.
And then there was Trek North Tours operator Leigh Alan Jorgensen, who was jailed for 12 months and penalised more than $84,000 after he refused a Commission order to pay back five workers $30,000.
He told Fair Work investigators that he would bankrupt his business rather than pay the fines and what he owed his workers.
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