A WAGGA man has described a dispute with a labour hire company that held contracts at Kapooka and RAAF Base Wagga as a landmark case that tells employers there are no “get out of jail free cards” to avoid paying workers.
The man, who did not wish to be named because he still works at Kapooka, was employed by Sydney-based Compass Group, and lost his job last year when the company decided against re-bidding for tenders with the Department of Defence (DOD) and fire and rescue.
The decision is understood to have plunged more than 100 workers into unemployment.
But it was Compass’s use of a “legal loophole” to refuse redundancy payments that enraged employees, many of whom had worked for the company over a number of years.
“We were all pretty disappointed because of how loyal we were to them,” the ex-Compass employee said.
“I was fortunate because I was able to get another job, but a lot of the older guys were basically out on their bums.
“It’s a big company with plenty of money and they didn’t want to pay.
“It was completely unfair.”
In a case before Fair Work Australia, Compass argued employees were not entitled to benefits because the dismissal was due to “ordinary and customary turnover of labour”. In other words, part and parcel of contract work.
However, FWA dismissed the company’s argument and found in favour of the employees. The industrial relations watchdog said the defence contracts were extended more than once, which implied the expectation of continued employment.
Compass was ordered to pay the redundancy entitlements, but has since appealed the decision.
An appeal date before the full bench of the FWA has not been set.
But in the lead-up to the appeal, the Wagga-based former employee wants to shine a light on the issue.
He said he hoped for a speedy resolution because workers were struggling.
“There should be no get out of jail free cards,” the worker said.
“The amount of money that they have spent – potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – fighting this case could have gone to the workers.
“We’re talking about people that have worked for them for nine or 10 years.”
Compass carried out a range of services at Wagga’s defence bases, but was primarily involved in on-site catering. A change to DOD’s tender process last year led to the company’s decision to not re-apply for the contracts. It held the contracts between 2004 and 2014.
The Advertiser made inquiries to Compass Group, but questions were not answered before deadline.
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