United Petroleum worker exploitation revealed by FWO

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has identified instances of non-compliance at United Petroleum retail fuel sites, with more than 40 per cent of audited outlets found to be underpaying employees.

The FWO began compliance activity at United Petroleum fuel retail sites in September 2015 after media reports alleged that some console operators were being underpaid.

It found 19 employees were underpaid $12,105.09 during the activity period. Many of them were migrant workers who had little knowledge of their rights and entitlements.

The 12 sites reviewed included 11 that were owned by franchisees or commission agents, and one site that was staffed by Keycomp Pty Ltd employees. Keycomp is an associated entity of United Petroleum that engaged employees to work in United Petroleum outlets where ownership of a particular site was in a period of transition.

Fair-Work Inspectors audited the pay records of 80 console operators who were employed at United Petroleum by franchisees, commission agents or Keycomp. Of the 12 outlets included in the activity:

  • Five outlets were non-compliant with Fair Work Laws and the relevant award.
  • 41 of the employees engaged by franchisees, commission agents and Keycomp were visa-holders, including 31 student visa-holders.
  • Many of the franchisees and commission agents operating United Petroleum outlets were from non-English speaking backgrounds, with minimal knowledge or experience of Australia’s workplace laws.
  • United Petroleum did not have any process or system in place to test whether its franchisees or commission agents were paying employees properly or applying the modern award correctly.

At the request of the FWO, United Petroleum conducted an audit of all Keycomp console operaters. This audit found that a further 27 employees were owed $8,445.74 in underpayments.

All the underpayments identified resulted from franchisees, commission agents and Keycomp Pty Ltd applying flat rates of pay for all hours worked and incorrectly applying modern award penalty rates, in particular weekend and overtime rates

Acting FWO Michael Campbell says the findings are concerning, especially given that many of the contraventions relate to vulnerable migrant workers.

“We know that migrant workers, especially student visa-holders, can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights and they are often reluctant to complain,” Mr Campbell said.

“In one instance, a franchisee was found to have paid five casual student-visa holders just $18.70 per hour when, under the relevant award, they should have received at least $25.05 per hour.”

United Petroleum has advised the FWO that Keycomp Pty Ltd no longer employs any console operators at any of its fuel outlets. However, the FWO is still considering expanding its investigation into the compliance history of Keycomp Pty Ltd. This would include the potential involvement of its directors in contravening workplace laws.

United Petroleum’s new CEO has started discussions with FWO, canvassing systems and processes to ensure future compliance with workplace laws at its outlets.

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