Bendigo plumber underpays apprentice $40,000

A Bendigo plumbing business has admitted to underpaying an adult apprentice more than $40,000 following an intervention by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Bendigo Smartplumb Pty Ltd admitted “inadvertently” underpaying the worker’s ordinary hourly rates and overtime after failing to identify that he was entitled to adult apprentice rates because he was aged 21 or older.

The FWO said the company had now committed to overhaul its workplace practices after paying the man rates as low as $7.37 per hour.

In one week, the FWO found the worker was underpaid more than $500 in overtime alone after working 58 hours – 20 hours more than the average set under the award – without any overtime pay.

Ombudsman inspectors acted after receiving a request for assistance from the employee, aged in his early 20s, last year.

Investigators found the man had been underpaid a total of $40,106 a period of two years between 2014 and 2016 and was paid hourly rates of between $7.37 and $10.81 for all ordinary hours prior to the last six weeks of his employment and was usually not paid at all for overtime hours.

Having started his apprenticeship aged 21 or older, under the Plumbing and Fire Sprinklers Award 2010, the man was entitled to minimum rates of between $15.32 and $18.03 for ordinary hours and between $22.98 and $36.06 for overtime hours.

The business also failed to pay the worker’s TAFE fees.

Bendigo Smartplumb owner-operators Joel Evans and Jayson Wilson told inspectors they had believed only workers aged over 25 were classed as adult apprentices.

Mr Evans and Mr Wilson co-operated with the Fair Work Ombudsman and the men and their company have entered into an enforceable undertaking aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance with federal workplace laws.

Under the undertaking, they have agreed to back-pay the worker in full within 12 months via a back-payment plan, provide a letter of apology to the worker and make a $2000 donation to the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre to assist promotion of workplace law compliance.

The company will also commission a professional audit of its compliance with workplace laws this year and next year and rectify any breaches, register with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s online My Account portal and develop processes for future compliance.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the matter was a reminder that employers can be left with a major unexpected wages bill if they fail to understand or seek advice on their legal obligations.

“Apprentices, like any worker starting a new career, can be particularly vulnerable, and we place a high importance on ensuring they are paid their full lawful entitlements,” she said.