SA's largest employer hit with class action alleging major staff underpayments

13 May 2020, Written by Business News Australia

SA's largest employer hit with class action alleging major staff underpayments

South Australian-based Shahin Enterprises has been hit with a class action today, alleging the company underpaid staff to the tune of $50-$70 million.

Adero Law filed the class action this afternoon alleging the operator of On The Run (OTR) convenience stores and petrol stations owes repayments to more than 8,000 current and former employees.

OTR is the cornerstone business of the Peregrine Corporation, owned by Shahin Enterprises, and is SA's largest private employer. According to Adero the company turned over annual revenue of approximately $2.4 billion last financial year.

The claimants allege that they were systemically underpaid by the Respondent using a combination of one or more courses of conduct.

A total of eight courses of conduct resulting in underpayment have been alleged by the claimants including:

  1. Unpaid work performed prior to rostered shifts;
  2. Wrongly deducted unpaid meal breaks;
  3. 'Voluntary Overtime' that was not in fact voluntary;
  4. Unpaid work performed after rostered shifts;
  5. Insufficient annualised salaries paid to salaried workers;
  6. Incorrect reference rates applied to trainees;
  7. Permanent staff receiving less than their contracted hours; and
  8. Unlawful deductions from wages.

Adero Law says courses 1-3 have the benefit of a recent judgment handed down by the Federal Court of Appeal in favour of a former OTR worker.

In addition to seeking back payment of those underpayments plus interest, Adero Law has asked the court to impose pecuniary penalties on the Respondent, with those penalties being paid directly to claimants.

"Adero Law is bringing the fight to South Australia," says Adero Law lawyer Kellie Pledger.

"The system has failed to protect many thousands of workers; employers have been allowed to build empires and expand their business portfolios on the backs of employees being paid less than the minimum award entitlements. The offending courses of conduct are not unknown to the Respondent.

"The Respondent has had every opportunity to implement fair business practices and has failed to do so, instead they choose to push for settlements without admissions of guilt and continue with business as usual. It's time to have this out, under the guidance of the Full Federal Court."

A spokesperson from OTR says the company will defend the class action.

"Anyone in retail will agree that the industrial system In Australia is incredibly complex. The challenges of managing a 24/7 business, with a large workforce, across multiple sites and industrial instruments means that mistakes are always possible, which is why businesses, including OTR, have processes in place to investigate and fix any potential issues raised," says the OTR spokesperson.

"OTR has repeatedly made it clear to Adero that OTR will correct any payment errors brought to its attention.

"Rather than cooperating with OTR to address its clients' issues, eastern states law firm Adero has said that working with OTR would be "unhelpful". In the circumstances, OTR has no choice but to defend the case."

Adero Law has encouraged anyone who worked for Shahin Enterprises Pty Ltd from 13 May 2014 to register for this class action.

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