Tasmanian businesswoman penalised over "heartless" treatment of workers
The Fair Work Ombudsman announced that Launceston businesswoman Wendy Langridge has been penalised almost $98,000 for her "heartless" treatment of long-term employees at the Mowbray Mill.
Thirteen former mill employees are owed almost $160,000 in outstanding wages and entitlements.
Handing down the penalty in the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Philip Burchardt found that Langridge's treatment of her staff had had a "heart-wrenching" impact on her workers.
The penalty follows an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Judge Burchardt found that Ms Langridge, the company's former director, unlawfully stood down six employees in 2013 and in so doing, avoided paying wages, leave, termination and redundancy entitlements - and failed to pay a further seven.
The court noted that Langridge had facilitated the transfer of James Nelson's business to Waverley-based company Southern Textiles Pty Ltd.
The transfer was made after the Fair Work Ombudsman sought an undertaking from the company not to disperse its assets, except to pay the workers their outstanding entitlements.
Judge Burchardt found that Ms Langridge knew that it was not possible to pay the workers their redundancy entitlements if their employment was terminated, but made various promises to them that they would be paid.
The court observed that Ms Langridge's denials about various promises she had allegedly made to employees to pay them were "unconvincing" and that she had also dealt falsely with receivers for James Nelson.
Judge Burchardt said no corrective action had been taken and the Fair Work Ombudsman correctly pointed out that the sale of James Nelson to third parties could only be understood as an endeavour, at least in part, to defeat the legal action.
"It is important that penalties be imposed at a sufficient level to ensure that employers have a clear understanding of the severe consequences that will attend a failure to apply minimum standards or contravene the legislative requirements in any event," he said.
"I will be setting a level of penalties that will give expression to this necessity ... in circumstances where a company's assets are stripped and given to a third party the court should take a particularly severe view," Judge Burchardt said.
The penalty against Ms Langridge represents 80 percent of the maximum $122,400 that could have been imposed.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the penalty should send a powerful message to other company directors who show blatant disregard for their workplace obligations.