Fair Work watchdog raids more than 80 businesses

Blake Roberts worked at Bella Portofino in Wollongong, where he was underpaid. 5th October 2016 Photo: Janie Barrett Photo: Janie BarrettFair Work inspectors have raided more than 80 businesses in NSW in response to complaints of rampant underpayment of young workers.
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The Fair Work Ombudsman launched a series of raids in Wollongong in response to concerns young workers in the town were being exploited.

Fair Work inspectors visited more than 80 businesses unannounced in the city’s central business district across three days this week.

The raids are in the wake of Fairfax Media’s exposure of widespread underpayment and in cases non-payment of university students by cafes, restaurants, retail and take-away food outlets.

Inspectors interviewed business operators and workers and checked records to ensure workers were being paid minimum hourly pay rates, penalty rates, overtime and allowances. Their compliance with record-keeping and pay slip laws was also checked.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said the auditing was in response to intelligence and public concerns that young workers in Wollongong were being underpaid and treated unfairly. He said a number of audits could lead to full blown investigations.

Inspectors contacted young workers identified by Fairfax Media before targeting the businesses that employ many young workers.

“Wollongong is a tertiary education hub with a high a number of young students who work in casual jobs and the reports of underpayments have been concerning,” Mr Campbell said.

“Young workers can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights or reluctant to complain, so it’s important we are proactive about checking they’re being paid correctly.”

After taking to Facebook to vent about being offered as little as $10 per hour to work in a takeaway food shop in Wollongong last year, Wollongong University graduate Ashleigh Mounser received complaints from about 67 young workers with similar issues.

Fairfax Media has spent two months talking with many of these workers, including Ms Mounser and her original Facebook respondents, their employers and researchers about the underpayment of workers aged 18 to 24.

Not only were young people in the Illawarra being ripped off, in an area of high youth unemployment, many were working for free in the hope of getting a paid job.

Ms Mounser welcomed news of the raids on businesses, but said more needed to be done to stop the rampant underpayment of students from continuing.

“I’m glad that something is being done, but I would rather that it be prevented rather than punished,” she said.

“I think we still need to look at legislation in terms of preventing it because people are still coming to Wollongong and dealing with the same problem, even it it’s from a different business.”

Arthur Rorris, secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, the peak union body for the region, said Ms Mounser had uncovered a culture of exploitation.

“We are not surprised that the Ombudsman has conducted these raids. It will take much more than three days of raids to get to the heart of the problem,” he said.

“We are talking about hundreds of businesses in our region and thousands around the country.”

Mr Rorris said the labour council has so far recovered thousands of dollars of entitlements for workers who have spoken up about the underpayment problem.

“We are in the process of recovering more in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Need for energy market independence to avoid fracture

The Business Council of board member Catherine Tanna at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 29 March 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesThe head of one of the country’s largest energy utilities has warned the nation’s energy markets risk fracture amid the mounting “uncertainty and inconsistency” of state-based energy targets.
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“We’re already grappling with uncertainty and inconsistency created by state-based renewable energy targets,” said Catherine Tanna, the chief executive of Energy.

???Her comments, posted on the company’s website, came as the federal government moves to give the competition watchdog more power over the industry.

It also came in the wake of the closure of Victoria’s large Hazelwood power station on Thursday, which had the nation’s energy market operator AEMO prepared to force industry to shut down to keep the lights on, in a bid to avoid any market disruption.

Closures were avoided as Victoria continued to export electricity for much of Thursday into NSW while importing from Tasmania and South .

Those trades shifted later in the day, with NSW selling into Victoria later in the afternoon as Victoria was also supplying Tasmania.

Prices in the wholesale electricity market remained elevated, at more than $100 a megawatt hour for most of the day.

“With the closure of Hazelwood, obviously the operators of Loy Yang and Yallourn are making money hand over fist,” one industry expert said.

“Competition in the market is too low, so the generators have every incentive to bid their output into the market at as high a price as they can.

“Recently South put forward a proposal that amounts to ‘going-it-alone’ and the federal government has floated the idea of expanding the Snowy Hydro scheme.

“How long before the system fractures?”

Despite the recent criticism of the national electricity market, 15,000 MW of capacity – with a third of that renewable generation capacity – has been added over the past two decades as the emissions intensity of the NEM has fallen by one fifth.

“Clearly the system is challenged,” she said. “But it needs enhancement, not replacement. Absent [political] bipartisanship, we need independence; but we do not need another institution to oversee the energy industry.”

Rather than create new regulators to address the energy challenge such as the n Competition and Consumer Commission – “we have more than enough already’ Ms Tanna said – “the answer lies in how you use the agencies we already have”.

In particular, the n Energy Markets Commission should move from overseeing the sector to take on a role similar to the Reserve Bank in the banking and finance industries where it sets monetary policy, she noted. For its part, the AEMC could guide a carbon market.

“Just as the RBA is responsible for monetary policy, our independent energy institutions might take charge of delivering carbon policy,” Ms Tanna argued. “For example, the AEMC might do this with advice from AEMO and AER. Its lever would be a mechanism for managing carbon.

“A clear long-term carbon signal … would be the premier mechanism to drive a national reduction in carbon emissions, just as it’s the long-term interest rate that drives national investment.

“Or we can watch as federal and state governments continue to work at cross-purposes.”

Her comments came as plans were unveiled for a $1 billion solar-battery farm to be built in South by Lyon Solar, which includes a 330 megawatt solar farm to cost $700 million and a 100MW battery system which will have four hours of full output storage.

The new farm is to be operational by the end of the year and is aimed at heading off shortages which the energy market operator has warned both Victoria and South are facing next summer.

Myer share raid won’t buy board seat

Solomon Lew’s $101 million raid on Myer shares will not automatically deliver the billionaire rag-trader a seat on the department store’s board.
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Amid reports that Myer and Mr Lew’s Premier Investments have already engaged in discussions, sources close to the department store claim Mr Lew’s 11 per cent stake does not come with board representation.

More tellingly, one Myer insider said the question of whether Mr Lew or a representative from Premier would be offered a board seat came down to maintaining the “right balance” on the board.

“It becomes a question of whether you think you can manage all those relationships,” one source said. “And it can become more complicated if it’s a shareholder.”

Retail analysts are divided on whether Myer’s board or management is more at risk from Premier’s unexpected swoop on its shares on Monday, but neither Myer nor Premier are making any public comment.

One investor said the board’s response to former Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes’ “demands” hurt its reputation.

And more recently, it’s understood major Myer shareholders voiced concerns over the board’s role in the $600 million turnaround plan put forward by current chief executive Richard Umbers as well as the speed of the recovery.

One analyst said Myer’s first-half result had also raised questions over the board’s commitment to a sales-led recovery, when cost-cutting was the key driver of revenue growth in the period.

Myer chairman Paul McClintock said he was not going to make any comment at this stage and it was “business as usual” at Myer.

Mr McClintock foreshadowed plans to add another director to the board at Myer’s annual general meeting in November. ‘Lew pressure’

Retail insiders warn Mr Lew will make his influence felt even if he doesn’t agitate for board representation.

“He’s an activist investor, he backs himself and he’s been very successful in most of the things he’s done,” one source said. “If he doesn’t get his way, there is the risk that he might start wielding his influence.

“I’m sure the board is looking at Mr Lew’s history and thinking this isn’t necessarily going to work out well.”

But it’s not just Myer’s board that will be feeling apprehensive about Premier’s share holding, there’s also the management team led by chief Richard Umbers, who will face even greater scrutiny from Premier’s team of experienced retailers.

Market watchers claim Mr Lew is skilled at throwing “bombs from the outside” as he proved as a minority shareholder in Country Road.

“I’m not sure he’s even looking for a board seat,” one analyst said. “It restrains him from acquiring more stock … and it would be very un-Solomon to apply any sort of handbrake.

“Alternatively, would it be such a bad thing to have someone who knows as much about the opposition as Mark McInnes in the tent?” Mr McInnes was the chief executive of David jones before he joined Premier.

A number of retail analysts are puzzled by Premier’s investment in Myer, question why it would invest in the “structurally challenged” department store sector.

Credit Suisse analyst Grant Saligari said Premier had bought into a mature retail market that was bracing for the arrival of global behemoth Amazon. Takeover doubts

“Premier has indicated it does not intend to make a full takeover, and in our view … there would be few compelling reasons for Premier to tie-up its balance sheet when it has a very high returning offshore retail expansion in Smiggle,” Mr Saligari said.

“Either this is a significant vote of confidence in the Myer strategy or there is something else at play.”

Broker Citi was more blunt in its assessment of the investment, particularly if it’s not a precursor to a full takeover.

“It does not represent the ideal deployment of capital, in our view, as shareholders may view Myer as operating in a more challenging environment, mid-way through a turnaround strategy with relatively high exposure to Amazon,” analyst Bryan Raymond said.

And he warned “mixed investor opinion” on the merits of a the acquisition may weigh on Premier Investments’ share price in the medium term.

History suggests Mr Lew has picked up something about Myer and is positioning himself to capitalise on any activity, but Premier didn’t rule out a takeover on Wednesday, either.

ASA director Stephen Mayne said Mr Lew was the “most prolific retail share trader in n history.”

“More often it’s trading share for profit rather than operational influence.”

Human Rights Commission to probe bid to deport Fijians

A family that could be split apart by government moves to deport the two parents back to Fiji has been given a flicker of hope after the Human Rights Commission agreed to examine their case.
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The Prasad family, ethnic Indians who arrived in Sydney in 2000, includes two n-born children who cannot be deported because they are full citizens, with n passports.

Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has declined to exercise his discretionary powers to keep the family together and compliance officials from the Immigration Department have warned the family that deportation action could begin from Tuesday.

Fairfax Media has confirmed the HRC, led by president Gillian Triggs, has accepted a complaint by Jitend Prasad and his wife Joytika that their n childrens’ human rights would be breached if they were sent back to Fiji.

The HRC has found in a number of recent cases that a child’s right “not to be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their family” is breached when the government removes their foreign-born parents.

In a 2013 case that closely mirrors the Prasads’, Ms Triggs found that removing the Bangladeshi parents of an n boy, Master Aishik Antar Paul, back to their country of origin would be “inconsistent” with his rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Both the previous Labor government and the Coalition refused to intervene in the Paul case and the government has recently cut off Medicare rights to the family from Campsie as it continues to seek their removal, according to their lawyer, Christopher Levingston.

“The continuing failure of the Minister [Peter Dutton] and Assistant Minister of Immigration [Mr Hawke] to act in conformity with the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission concerning the best interests of n citizen children, is in my view totally inconsistent with the precept that the family is the fundamental unit of society,” Mr Levingston said.

“The impulse to punish and remove the parents of n citizen children is not only inconsistent with international treaty obligations it is an affront to common sense and does nothing to instil confidence in the integrity of the migration program. It is unfair, unjust and makes absolutely no political sense at all.”

The Prasads’ migration agent, Farnam Razzaghipour, said the department should be notified on Friday but the family remained “petrified” about being sent to immigration detention.

It is usual for the HRC to ask the department to pause any deportation action while the commission investigates but Immigration is not bound by such a request.

An investigator for the HRC said she was unable to comment on the status of any complaint until the commission reports its findings.

The Prasads have lived for 17 years in Eastlakes, southern Sydney, with Jasmita, 15, and her brother Jasneel, 12, both n citizens, attending local schools Randwick Girls’ High and Mascot Public, respectively.

The Prasads, who have had their claim for asylum refused, claim they were caught up in threats and violence by indigenous Fijians from a nearby village during the 2000 military coup in Fiji and would suffer discrimination and degrading treatment on the grounds of their ethnicity if they returned.

According to the law, the minister can use discretionary power if there are “strong, compassionate circumstances that, if not recognised, would result in serious, ongoing and irreversible harm and continuing hardship to an n citizen or an n family unit, where at least one member of the family is an n citizen or n permanent resident.”

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Julie Bishop condemns colleagues over China extradition treaty collapse

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has delivered a blast to the backbench rebels who helped sink the China extradition treaty, questioning their trust in ‘s own legal and political system.
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The deputy Liberal leader has also extended an olive branch to bring Labor back to the table on the ratification, suggesting the government would be prepared to meet an opposition request to review the entire Extradition Act.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull withdrew the treaty from Parliament this week after a backlash from Labor, crossbench senator Cory Bernardi, and a group of government MPs who had threatened to cross the floor over the issue.

The treaty was first signed by John Howard in 2007 and after nearly a decade of delay, the government moved this year to bring it into effect based on advice from the n Federal Police and Department of Foreign Affairs that non-ratification was becoming a major diplomatic irritant.

Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media on Thursday that China’s ambassador to , Cheng Jingye, had expressed deep disappointment the government had been forced to pull out of plans to ratify the treaty.

The Foreign Minister also said she had told her colleagues at a meeting on Monday night that the proposed treaty gave the government broad discretion to deny extradition.

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