Shire sued over wages

Saturday, 1st October, 2011

The Central Darling Shire Council is being accused of underpaying staff at a women’s safe house in Wilcannia by thousands of dollars.

The Far West Community Legal Service this week issued proceedings in the Local Court seeking more than $20,000 in pay allegedly owed to one refuge employee.

Principal solicitor Rachel Storey said yesterday the employee worked at the safe house for four years up until 2008.

She said the underpayments sought would have been much more but half of the unpaid wages occurred over six years ago and were therefore statute-barred from being claimed.

“What is troubling is that the workers at the Wilcannia safe house who look after the most vulnerable members of our community - mainly Aboriginal women and children who are the victims, or are at risk, of domestic violence - continue to be underpaid,” Ms Storey said.

“In fact, we have evidence that suggests that workers have been asked to sign contracts for wages which are substantially below Award rates. This would appear to be a clear breach of our Fair Work legislation.

“It is hoped that as a result of these proceedings, the Shire Council will conduct a council-wide review of its wages system for its employees.”

Ms Storey also said that in preparing for the case the Council was requested a number of times to provide a copy of the employee’s personnel file.

“However, despite repeated requests, they have been unable to provide a copy which is a clear breach of the Fair Work Act and its Regulations along with basic archiving practice expected from a Local Council.”

Central Darling Shire general manager Tim Drew said yesterday that he only found out about the court action on Thursday and it wasn’t appropriate for him to comment on the proceedings.

But Mr Drew, who only started in the job three weeks ago, said he was not aware of any request from the FW Community Service for information.

He said he would also talk to staff to “try and ascertain what’s happened” at the refuge in respect to the wages.

“I’m a bit disappointed no-one from the Far West Community Legal Centre hasn’t contacted me and gone to the press instead.

 “If they want to handle it that way that’s fine but we won’t be.”

Ms Storey also called on the NSW State Government to review the implementation of recommendations of the Promoting Better Practice report into the Shire which was handed down in February 2011.

She said the review found “a continuum of failures to adopt or to implement strategies that ensure good governance by the Shire Council”. 

“The community of Wilcannia deserve better,” Ms Storey said.