Council contractor ’underpays’ refugees

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong Council is standing by a recycling contractor accused of underpaying refugees on visas nearly $200,000.

Polytrade is being prosecuted in the Federal Court by the Fair Work Ombudsman for allegedly underpaying five workers at Dandenong and Hallam a total of $194,249 over 20 months.

Polytrade Employment Services – which supplied labour to Polytrade – and Polytrade’s husband-and-wife owners Man Sang Chen and Pui Shan Ho are also charged.

Greater Dandenong Council has taken a nation-leading public stance on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers, leading a multi-council Back Your Neighbour campaign against federal welfare cuts.

Its mayors have chaired the Local Government Mayoral Taskforce Supporting People Seeking Asylum.

The council indicated that it was sticking with Polytrade’s 10-year contract to receive kerbside recyclables from Greater Dandenong Council.

The contract expires in September 2023.

“Polytrade has formally advised Council that appropriate corrective action has been undertaken and that they are cooperating with all investigations accordingly,” Greater Dandenong business, engineering and major projects director Paul Kearsley said.

Fair Work inspectors allege the five workers – who were employed as waste sorters – were paid a flat rate of $22 per hour between February 2018 and October 2019.

They were allegedly denied the relevant minimum wage rate, loadings for casual, night and shift work and weekend/public holiday penalty rates.

Polytrade has since fully rectified the alleged underpayments, according to the FWO.

At the time, the southern Asian refugees spoke limited English and were on protection or bridging visas, the FWO claims.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the alleged underpaying of visa holders was particularly serious.

“These workers can be vulnerable if they are unaware of their entitlements or reluctant to complain due to their visa status,” Ms Parker said.

“Migrant workers in Australia must be paid their full lawful entitlements like any other employee in Australia. Anyone with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact us for free advice and assistance.”

The FWO investigation was sparked by a referral from the Australian Workers Union.

The regulator also alleges workplace breaches relating to minimum engagement periods and advising employees of their terms of engagement.

Other alleged breaches were in superannuation entitlements, record-keeping and issuing pay slips in the required form.

Polytrade and Polytrade Employment Services face potential penalties of up to $63,000 per breach, and Mr Chen and Ms Ho up to $12,600 per contravention.

The FWO is also seeking an order for Polytrade to commission an independent audit of their compliance with workplace laws.

Polytrade was contacted for comment.