NOWRA call centre owners Norm and Judy Potter have lodged an appeal against fines of $107,500 and an order to back-pay almost $200,000 to staff.
The Potters operate the Well Done Contact Centre and previously owned another call centre called Quincolli.
The fines and back-payment order, imposed in the Federal Magistrates Court in Sydney are the result of a prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Potters lodged an appeal against the findings on Monday, stating they did not think the penalty was fair.
“This has been a long running case, initiated by the United Services Union and Fair Work in 2009,” Mrs Potter said.
The appeal is set down to be heard on April 17.
“The penalties are against Quincolli, which ceased trading in 2011.
“We don’t think the judgment was fair or that the penalty was fair,” she said.
The company was fined $81,000 and ordered to pay a total of $193,419 in underpayments of wages to 33 call centre staff.
The largest underpayment of an individual employee was $17,467.
Mrs Potter, who managed the call centre at the time of the underpayments, has been personally fined $26,500.
Federal magistrate Rolf Driver found Mrs Potter was involved in Quincolli underpaying 33 casual employees’ minimum hourly rates, overtime rates, annual leave loadings and shift, as well as weekend and public holiday allowances in 2009.
Fair Work inspectors discovered the underpayments when they conducted an audit of the company.
Mrs Potter was found to have breached workplace laws by failing to comply with a Fair Work inspector’s request to provide records and documents.
One former employee who requested not to be named said the staff were horrified at the way they were treated.
“They had a radio room that was going off, and all the phones would be ringing at the same time.
“It was worse than a third-world-country call centre.
“They were providing answering services for state, federal and local government, as well as emergency calls, with people not knowing what call was coming in from where. It was a highly dysfunctional.
“The staff were frazzled and they were answering emergency calls for the RFS and the SES, as well as council.
“You can’t exploit vulnerable employees like students and those from non-English speaking background.
“I think the employees will be elated once they see how much money each employee is owed, and they can get a copy of the judgment on the Fair Work website,” the former employee said.
Mr Driver, who delivered his judgment on Monday, said the contraventions represented a failure to provide basic and important entitlements under workplace relations legislation and needed to be taken seriously.
“The purpose of that legislation is to provide a safety net which ensures adequate minimum entitlements to employees, particularly those who are vulnerable or are on low-income rates,” he said.
Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said the court’s decision sent a message that underpaying low-paid employees’ minimum rates was a serious matter and would not be tolerated.
“We won’t hesitate to take action to ensure workplace laws relating to minimum pay rates are complied with,” Mr Wilson said.
“Successful prosecutions such as this also benefit employers who are complying with workplace laws because it helps them to compete on a level playing field.”
USU union organiser Rudi Oppitz said the decision should be seen by employees who fear they are being underpaid that it is an issue worth pursuing.
“We came in on OH and S issues for which we issued notices and then moved on to raise issues of underpayment.
“This result shows getting in contact with your union and starting the process off and pursuing your rights is worthwhile,” he said.