Supermarket trolley collectors exploited: Ombudsman

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 2nd February 2009

Low-paid trolley collectors at supermarket sites throughout Adelaide have reportedly been deliberately exploited, an investigation by the Federal Workplace Ombudsman has discovered.

Workplace inspectors believe 38 employees at one company have been knowingly underpaid more than $100,000 by their employer, an average of more than $2600 each.

The Workplace Ombudsman will allege in court that the employer secretly altered workers’ time sheets to reduce the number of hours he had to pay them and only issued payslips to those employees who asked for them.

The watchdog has initiated legal action in the Industrial Relations Court of SA against NMD Investments Pty Ltd, of Henley Beach Road, Lockleys, and its sole director Giuseppe Placanica. NMD Investments has provided trolley collection services to K-mart, Coles, Target, Woolworths, Big W and Bi-Lo at sites throughout metropolitan Adelaide.

A second Adelaide company – yet to be named – is also under investigation after inspectors found more than 50 of its trolley collectors, many of them overseas migrants, were being paid as little as $10 an hour.

The Agency is considering legal action after the company – which also provides services at major metropolitan shopping centres – allegedly fabricated payroll records and provided false and misleading evidence to inspectors.

On Thursday, Adelaide-based M & K Angeloupoulos Pty Ltd was fined $40,000 in the Federal Magistrates Court for underpaying six workers about $30,000. Federal Magistrate Simpson found that one worker, who suffered a disability, was paid “the paltry sum of $5 an hour” when he should have got up to $13.47.

The Court found that brothers Milton and Kon Angeloupoulos, who also run a Bean Bar Coffee Shop, had engaged in “a level of exploitation” in relation to the hourly rates of at least three of their staff.

Last year, SA trolley collecting company Risborg Services Pty Ltd was fined $26,730 after the Workplace Ombudsman took the company to the same Court for underpaying 64 of its workers more than $170,000.

Workplace Ombudsman Executive-Director Michael Campbell claims NMD Investments has recorded multiple breaches of the Workplace Relations Act. These include allegedly paying its trolley collectors a flat $9 to $10 an hour when it should have paid up to $16.49.

Mr Campbell revealed that time sheets completed by the trolley collectors were allegedly doctored without their knowledge to reduce their income. “Payslips were only provided when workers requested them,” he advised.

Mr Campbell claims the company has shown no remorse for its behaviour. “While Placanica has admitted underpaying his staff, he claims he does not have the money to repay them and will be forced to close the business if he is compelled to do so,” he said.

The Workplace Ombudsman will allege that Placanica told inspectors his workers “freely made this choice” to keep their jobs.

Details of the SA cases have emerged as the Workplace Ombudsman also begins a concerted effort to stamp out exploitation of trolley collectors in the Northern Territory. Inspectors have begun visiting sites throughout Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs for face-to-face meetings with workers and sub-contractors after problems were also identified in the Top End.

Mr Campbell said that in the main, trolley collectors tended to be vulnerable workers and the Agency was determined to ensure they, like anyone else, received their proper entitlements. “If there are unscrupulous employers out there riding roughshod over their staff and who think they can get away with it, they had better think again,” he warned. “We simply will not tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable workers in our community, and neither will the courts, which have been handing out severe penalties for those caught doing the wrong thing.”

In Victoria last year, trolley collecting company Xidis Pty Ltd was fined $120,000 for underpaying 42 of its workers in Albury $100,000.

Mr Campbell warned all employers of the need to keep proper employment records for staff, saying it was “not an option, but a legal obligation”.