The Fair Work Ombudsman says United Petroleum has agreed to talk “later this year” about a compliance partnership after an investigation by the Ombudsman into the fuel retailer uncovered breaches of workplace laws including wage underpayments.
The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted random audits on 11 United Petroleum outlets in September 2015 and found that six were breaching workplace laws, including underpaying staff by thousands of dollars.
In two cases, the underpaid employees – who worked as console operators – were international students from India and Bangladesh with no understanding of their workplace rights.
The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced investigations into United Petroleum after media reports late last year alleged some employees were being paid as little as $10 an hour.
United Petroleum is an Australian-owned company with 338 sites nationally operated by franchisees and commission agents.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the agency wrote to United Petroleum head office in early December 2015, offering to work with the franchisor to assist it review its practices and ensure franchisees understand their workplace obligations and the damage that can be caused to a brand if those responsibilities are not met.
Ms James says the offer was made following an earlier meeting with the Franchise Council of Australia, which expressed confidence that its members were keen to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure and promote compliance with workplace laws – and give the broader community greater confidence that their commitment to compliance was both sincere and real.
The Fair Work Ombudsman said United Petroleum did not respond to its correspondence. The agency is now publicly encouraging the fuel retailer to enter a compliance partnership to help ensure workers at hundreds of petrol stations are being paid properly.
Final report nearing completion
Ms James says a final report on the findings of the agency’s investigations of the 11 United Petroleum outlets is nearing completion and will be publicly released when it is concluded.
However, Ms James revealed that enforcement action has already been taken against two United Petroleum operators – one at Pooraka, in South Australia, and another at Waterloo, in NSW.
Ms James says that as a result, Fair Work Ombudsman officials earlier this month met with senior representatives from United Petroleum head office to again promote the benefits of the franchisor entering into a compliance partnership with the agency.
Enforceable Undertakings were introduced by legislation in 2009 and the Fair Work Ombudsman has been using them to achieve strong outcomes against companies that breach workplace laws without the need for civil court proceedings.
A number of well known brands have entered into compliance partnerships, including McDonalds, Domino’s, La Porchetta, the Coffee Club and Groove Train.
Two operators already facing enforcement action
The two United Petroleum operators already facing enforcement action are AAR DEE Traders Pty Ltd, which runs the fuel outlet at 876 Main North Road Pooraka, South Australia, and E Tannous and V Tannous, who previously ran the outlet at 941 Bourke Street, Waterloo, NSW.
United Petroleum Pooraka was found to have underpaid five Indian students a total of $2032 between August 3 and December 31 last year, and United Petroleum Waterloo was found to have underpaid three international students from India and Bangladesh a total of $3096 during the same time frame.
They were paying flat hourly rates of $18.70 and $18 respectively for all hours worked. However, under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award 2010, the casual workers should have received $25.05 Monday to Friday and $32.56 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Both operators have signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance with federal workplace laws.
Ms James says that in recognition that some employees are reluctant to complain about their workplace issues, the agency now has an “Anonymous Report” function to allow the community to report potential workplace breaches.
Earlier this year a former United Petroleum operator was in court allegedly withholding more than $11,000 in government-funded parental leave payments it was required to pay to a visa holder.
C&I Week contacted United Petroleum for comment but did not respond prior to publication.