Court imposes fines for underpayment of fruit and vegetable store workers

Posted by Josette Dunn on 22nd October 2010

The operators of fruit and vegetable stores in Wagga and Sydney have been fined almost $90,000 for underpaying 40 of their workers.

The penalties were handed down in the Federal Magistrates Court in Sydney yesterday following a prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Fair Work Ombudsman told the Court that 20 shop assistants at the former ‘Fruit World’ and ‘Fruit Market’ stores on Baylis Street in Wagga were underpaid a total of $84,000 – and 20 shop assistants at the Roselands Shopping Centre in Sydney were underpaid about $10,000.

Roselands Fruit Market Pty Ltd was fined $70,800 and Joe Aloisio, who managed the Wagga stores at the time of the underpayments, a further $16,650.

The company underpaid the workers between 2006 and 2009 when it was operating the stores.

Handing down his decision yesterday, Federal Magistrate Rolf Driver said Roselands Fruit Market continued to underpay employees for a significant period of time even after Fair Work inspectors alerted the company to the issue.

Federal Magistrate Driver said employers in a similar position “are put on notice that a failure by them to meet their obligations to employees will have substantial consequences”.

The employees were paid a flat rate for all hours worked, resulting in underpayment of their minimum hourly rate, weekend and public holiday penalty rates, casual loadings and annual leave entitlements.

Five of the underpaid Wagga employees and seven of the underpaid Sydney employees were aged under 21.

The Fair Work Ombudsman started investigating Roselands Fruit Market Pty Ltd in 2008 after receiving complaints from workers.

The company has back-paid all money owed. The biggest individual underpayment was $15,820 for a Wagga based employee.

Fair Work Ombudsman Executive Director Mike Campbell says the penalty sends a strong message to employers that underpayment of young, low-paid workers will not be tolerated by the courts.
“Successful prosecutions such as this also benefit employers who are complying with workplace laws because it helps them to compete on a level playing field,” he said.

Roselands Fruit Market continues to operate the Roselands store but the Wagga stores on Baylis Street are no longer trading.