Pulis Plumbing Pty Ltd fined for underpaying worker over three months; some work done in Bendigo

A plumber who told his labourer to “seriously, f**k off” when he inquired about money owed to him has been penalised $21,500.

Michael Pulis, from Pulis Plumbing Pty Ltd, was fined a further $100,000 by Judge Riethmuller in the Federal Circuit Court for underpaying an employee $26,882 over three months in 2014.

Judge Riethmuller described the conduct as “outrageous exploitation of a young person”, adding the behaviour was “such to arouse much emotion” and “nothing short of avarice”.

The worker was underpaid when he was employed by Pulis Plumbing to perform work in the Bendigo, Melbourne and Geelong areas between September and December, 2014.

Mr Pulis and his company told the employee he was being hired as a second-year apprentice, but never formally signed him up as one.

The company also paid the employee an apprentice rate of $12.18 an hour.

Judge Riethmuller said the employee had been paid only a fifth of what he was entitled to, and that there had been no “credible expression of regret” from Mr Pulis.

Leave and termination entitlements, meal and travel allowances, were also underpaid.

The employee was back-paid after the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced legal action.

Judge Riethmuller found that, despite the employee working 10 to 12 hours a day and never being counselled about his attitude or work practices, Mr Pulis told him after three months his skills and attitude were not to a second-year apprentice’s standard.

When the employee texted Mr Pulis asking when he would be paid the outstanding wages owed to him, Mr Pulis responded by saying: “Seriously, f***k off. When I’m ready.”

“The conduct is worse than simply underpaying an employee who has had difficulty obtaining work elsewhere, as the respondents also held out the lure of an apprenticeship to this young man: a particularly significant career and life goal for a young person who is not academically inclined,” Judge Riethmuller said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the conduct was deliberate.

“It is simply unacceptable to exploit any worker in such a way and the conduct is even more abhorrent when you consider the response the worker received for doing nothing more than asking for what he was lawfully entitled to,” she said.