The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured $31,968 in penalties in court against a Brisbane-based freight company and its director, for underpaying two of its workers.
A Fair Work inspector issued two Compliance Notices to Alpine Fresh in March 2021 after forming a belief the two workers had been underpaid the minimum cents-per-kilometre rate owed under the Road Transport and Distribution Award (Long Distance Operations) 2010 and the Road Transport and Distribution Award (Long Distance Operations) 2020.
One worker was employed from October 2014 to July 2020 and the other was employed from October 2018 to September 2020. The regulator investigated after receiving requests for assistance from the affected workers.
It was alleged one of the workers was also underpaid casual loading rates under the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2010 and Road Transport and Distribution Award 2020.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court has now imposed a $26,640 penalty against Alpine Fresh Pty Ltd, which transports food and other goods, and a $5328 penalty against company director Mitchel McAlpine.
Fair Work says the penalties were imposed in response to Alpine Fresh failing to comply with the Compliance Notices requiring the back-payment of entitlements to the two workers.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Alpine Fresh fully back-paid the workers only after legal proceedings had commenced.
Alpine Fresh was approached for comment on the matter. The company said, “At all times, Alpine Fresh Pty Ltd and its director, Mitchel McAlpine, cooperated with the Fair Work Ombudsman and the failure to comply with the Compliance Notices was inadvertent due to extreme pressure and time constraints associated with the Covid-19 lockdowns.”
In its response to the claim, Alpine Fresh added that it restored the inadvertent underpayments to the employees in question as part of the investigation with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman initially issued notices in December of 2020, our busiest month of the year, and then found they were incorrectly issued and withdrew them. The Fair Work Ombudsman re-issued the notices and Alpine Fresh Pty Ltd attempted to comply with the information requested but regrettably not to the extent required by Fair Work Ombudsman,” said Alpine Fresh.
“There are currently enormous supply chain pressures on all transport workers and operators in Australia and, unfortunately, there was no recognition whatsoever from Fair Work Ombudsman regarding this pressure and the role it played in our non-compliance.
“Alpine Fresh Pty Ltd takes its regulatory obligations very seriously and measures have been adopted to help avoid this situation in future.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said business operators that fail to act on Compliance Notices need to be aware they can face court-imposed penalties on top of having to back-pay workers. “When Compliance Notices are not followed, we are prepared to take legal action to ensure workers receive their lawful entitlements,” she said.