FWO audit catches Merri Transport out again

Transport firm agrees to a number of employment watchdog conditions to avoid prosecution


Merri Transport has agreed to stringent demands Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to avoid prosecution after an investigation revealed shortcomings in treatment of staff.

Truck drivers who worked for regional Victorian company were underpaid more than $260,000, an FWO audit of the Allansford-based company revealed.

The investigation uncovered breaches relating to severance pay, cents-per-kilometre rates, allowances for loading, and public holiday payments.

Merri Transport, which is involved in the dairy sector, also breached federal record-keeping and pay slip laws.

Ombudsman Michael Campbell says six of the eight truck drivers, aged between 32 and 70, had worked for Merri Transport for more than 10 years before they were dismissed.

"The eight drivers were underpaid amounts of $60,940, $49,885, $45,966, $44,687, $35,431, $11,920, $8219 and $3516," he says.

However, the FWO opted against prosecuting the company after it agreed to pay the drivers their entitlements and implement systems to ensure breaches did not happen again.

"As an alternative to litigation over its latest contraventions, Merri Transport has agreed to back-pay the workers in full and has entered into an enforceable undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman," Campbell says.

The undertaking includes a written apology to each of the eight drivers, in which the company expresses "sincere regret" for its behavior and gives a commitment that such conduct will not occur again.

Furthermore, Merri Transport will commission workplace relations training for its managers, engage a professional external review of its pay practices and conduct a self-audit of its record-keeping and pay slip practices.

It has also been required to report to the FWO on the systems and processes it introduces to ensure compliance with its payment obligations.

"We use enforceable undertakings where we have formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this and accepted responsibility and agreed to cooperate and fix the problem," Campbell says.

The incident is not the first time Merri Transport has fallen foul of the workplace watchdog.

Inspectors have dealt with six previous complaints from Merri Transport employees dating back to 2002, some of which resulted in employees being reimbursed a total of $23,100.

"It is not the first time the company has come to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s attention," Campbell says.

He says the FWO understands workplace laws can seem complicated but that small businesses should make use of the agency’s tools and resources to inform themselves.

Merri Transport was last year sold to fellow Victorian company Ryans Transport.

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