Mark McKenzie is CEO of ACAPMA. He has 30 years of varied experience in private and public-sector roles, with much of this time spent addressing strategic issues and public policy for the road-transport, conventional-fuels and alternative-fuels industries.
First established in 1976, the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) is the peak industry association representing the interests of the majority of businesses that comprise the downstream petroleum sector in Australia. Membership ranges from large corporations to small family-owned businesses.
For more information, contact the ACAPMA secretariat on 1300 160 270, or email [email protected].
In a clear signal of things to come, the year opened with news that an Australian fuel-transport business had been issued with fines totalling nearly $500,000 for systemic wage underpayment.
Following an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and subsequent court action, an Adelaide-based company that transports bulk petroleuym products into the Northern Territory, NSW and Western Australia was fine $93,000 for wage breaches and ordered to pay back $374,000 in outstanding wages.
The affected drivers received back- pay ranging from $8,000 to $91,500. This case was notable in that the company had appealed the original decision on the basis that
it had entered into private contract arrangements with some of the drivers, believing that this action had served to reduce its liability for back pay.
In ruling on this appeal, the Federal Court determined that these private arrangements were invalid given that they breached key elements of Australian employment law – and resulted in the payment of wages below the minimum award rates.
Our industry has previously received several strong warnings about the absolute need for all businesses to ensure correct payment of wages – much of it coming in the wake of the very public investigation of 7-Eleven in 2016.
These warnings include a very strong address by the FWO, Natalie James, at the Asia Pacific Fuel Industry Forum in Melbourne last September.
Changes to federal law introduced in October have given the FWO increased powers to investigate potential incidents of wage underpayment and legally to compel businesses to provide financial records and other relevant employee information.
And rightly so.
The underpayment of wages by any business is not only illegal, it is ethically wrong.
Wage laws exist to ensure that all workers are paid a minimum fair wage for the specific nature of the work they are performing. Failure of business owners to ensure all wage payments to employees comply with these minimum-payment rates is therefore manifestly unfair.
But there is an additional reason why ACAPMA, as the national body representing fuel wholesalers and fuel retailers, has taken such a strong stance on this issue: fair competition.
Wages are among the highest costs of any business. It therefore follows that if a business is not paying correct wages, then that business is getting an unfair competitive advantage in a fiercely competitive national fuels market.
This most recent prosecution gives a clear warning to any business that is currently engaging in – or has in the recent past engaged in – systemic and deliberate wage underpayment.
The FWO has entered 2018 with both the capacity and intent to prosecute businesses for wage underpayment, to protect vulnerable employees and ensure that all businesses operating in the national fuels market are competing fairly.