Ballarat on the radar for worker exploitation: union

The “sheer audacity” of some of Ballarat’s business owners has put the city on the radar of a national investigation into workers’ pay and conditions, Trades Hall Council says.

An inquiry into exploitation and underpayment will sit in Ballarat early next year following a vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Workers will be able to make a confidential submission to the inquiry.

Trades Hall Council’s youth legal centre sees between three and five young people a week with complaints of underpayment and mistreatment, secretary Brett Edgington said.

On Thursday alone three workers came to Trades Hall with issues over pay and entitlements, he said.

Most of the workers Trades Hall Council sees work in hospitality, retail or domestic building.

“The sheer audacity of many of our hospitality providers in underpayment and exploitation is just so out of control you can’t help but be on the radar.

“They’re not doing it discreetly anymore.”

The investigation was prompted in part by the exploitation of young workers in Ballarat, some of whom The Courier has revealed were paid as little as $8 an hour, Labor Senator Gavin Marshall said.

Senator Marshall said the inquiry, which centres on corporate evasion of the Fair Work Act, would also focus on labour hire, deceptive bargaining, and unfair dismissal across regional and metropolitan Australia.

Workers’ conditions were “bad everywhere” but grew worse with distance from major city centres, Mr Edgington said.

“The problem is in regional communities it’s bad because (of) that threat of ‘I know everyone who works in this town’.

“As you move out of Melbourne the Fair Work Ombudsman is not out there.

“Business owners have that feeling, ‘we can get away with it here because no one is looking over our shoulder’.”

The Courier earlier this year revealed the case of *Olivia, a young chef who alleges she was underpaid $27,000 by her high profile former employer.

Hers was one of about 20 Ballarat businesses known to be underpaying their staff – of which the “more generous” pay $12 to $15 – Mr Edgington said. 

The inquiry findings will be tabled by August 2017.

Submissions can be made to the Senate Education and Employment Committees secretary via email at eec.sen@aph.gov.au or by calling 02 6277 3521.

Ballarat Trades Hall Council secretary Brett Edgington and lawyer Orry Pilven, who has previously worked on the cases of underpaid workers in Ballarat. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Ballarat Trades Hall Council secretary Brett Edgington and lawyer Orry Pilven, who has previously worked on the cases of underpaid workers in Ballarat. Picture: Lachlan Bence