Contributed by Ugly
Lawyers have launched what they are calling an “unprecedented” class action for 4000 workers in the telecommunications industry. It is alleged that they have been victims of sham contracting.
It comes at a time of rising concern over what is being called stolen wages by unions and others, in a climate where work is hard to find, and employers are more prepared to seek sources of cheap labour.
In this case, labour contractor ISGM, which is now trading as Tandem Corporation, has been providing sham subcontractors to work for Telstra, Foxtel and NBN Co.
Documents filed in the Federal Court, allege that those engaged by the labour hire company should have been treated as any other employee, since they were engaged from 2011, and were therefore not casual contractors. This means that they should be entitled to significant compensation.
“In terms of class actions, we think this particular action is the biggest in Australia [involving workers] and probably quite unprecedented,” said Vicky Antzoulatos, a special counsel for Shine Lawyers, which is running the case.
In documents filed to the Federal Court, lawyers alleged that the subcontractors engaged by ISGM, from 2011 onwards, were legally entitled to be treated as employees and should thus receive significant compensation, involving wages, plus add ons like annual leave, long service leave, overtime and other allowances.
The case is based on the claim that this was a scheme operating for purposely denying the payment of lawful entitlements.
Documents suggest that the labour hire company had control over the work, including the hours worked and the circumstances under which they could work for others.
They said the company had overarching control of the workers, including the hours in which they were available to work, and the circumstances in which they could work for others.
Shine Lawyers first began investigating the company after the ABC’s 730 program reported on the company’s treatment of vulnerable young workers.
Vicky Antzoulatos, a special counsel for Shine Lawyers, which is running the case, said “Many of the workers have been personally and financially devastated by these events, to the point where some of them have attempted to take their own lives.
If the case is won, it will have a significant impact on industrial relations. Wage theft is rife across the Australian economy and almost nothing has been down to prevent it. Setting a legal precedent would make it much harder for employers to continue with impunity.
National president of the Communinations Workers Alliance, representing these workers, Len Cooper, said that plenty of industries will be watching closely
“I would imagine every employer organisation in the land will be interested in this one,” he said.
“I’ve been in the union business and telecommunications for decades now and I haven’t seen a worse case of exploitation of workers than this.
“I think it’s probably one of the most significant industrial relations cases in Australia yet,” he said.