The FWO claimed that Harold Jackson paid an employee a mere $1.35 an hour.
“Those b*****ds,” Jackson said. “It’s not true. The worst thing is to defend it is going to cost me an arm and a leg. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars and they know small business people like myself don’t have that money.”
Jackson is the owner of Harold’s Glass and Hardware and the adjacent Rhythm & Vines café and bakery in Queenstown.
He told SmartCompany that the FWO’s claims are groundless.
The FWO claimed in documents lodged with the Federal Court that Jackson paid a backpacker native to Italy just $270 for four weeks’ work. This equates to $1.35 per hour.
The backpacker in question says that she agreed to work for Jackson because he promised to sign off her second-year 417 visa application.
The FWO also claimed that Jackson underpaid backpackers from the UK and Japan.
The legal documents alleged that the backpackers worked for Jackson over periods ranging from a week to four months, claiming that they received irregular payments from $2.43 to $5.38 per hour.
It was claimed that in total the backpackers were underpaid $42,985, as they were entitled to be paid over $22 per normal hour worked and up to $32 per hour for weekend work.
According to the FWO’s allegations, two of the backpackers were hired after they found Jackson’s job advertisements on Gumtree which stated that “88 day second year work visa sign off is available”.
457 visa holders are eligible to apply for an extension of their working holiday if they have completed 88 days of specified work in a designated regional area and worked in certain industries.
According to Jackson, the backpacker who filed the complaint against him was a friend of his fiancée, and put pressure on him to sign off on her visa extension application.
“She came here as a guest of my fiancée, who is Italian,” Jackson said. “I said “No, I can’t just sign people off like that”. I think she was here two-and-a-half weeks before I told her to leave. It was a horrible experience.”
Jackson says he did not underpay the other backpackers.
“[The FWO] interviewed these workers who could not speak English very well. I had no problem with that but then they sent me an email saying these people say they work seven days a week.”
He also denied underpaying the other backpackers.
“[The FWO] interviewed these workers who could not speak English very well,” he told SmartCompany. “I had no problem with that but then they sent me an email saying these people say they work seven days a week.”
Jackson attributed some misunderstanding to the language barrier, saying that the backpackers “would say yes to whatever you asked them.”
He added that he did place the advertisement on Gumtree, but the sign off would only be provided to backpackers who had the time in Australia and the right work history.
“I’m hoping this matter can be sorted out at mediation,” he said.
In a statement, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that inspectors had tried and failed to secure sufficient co-operation from Jackson to prevent the matter being taken to court.
The operator of a small business in Tasmania has lashed out at the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) after it began legal proceedings against him.