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AWU take De Costi to court alleging millions in backpay owed to graveyard shift workers

November 14, 2020

The Australian Workers’ Union is taking iconic seafood giant De Costi to the Federal Circuit Court, accusing the company of engaging in wage theft to the tune of millions of dollars.

De Costi, a subsidiary of ASX-listed Tassal, has been failing to pay proper rates to staff working early morning hours at its seafood processing facility in western Sydney, according to the AWU.

The union believes that around 50 current workers – and hundreds of former employees – on the early shift with start times from 1-5am – have been underpaid for years.

Staff are currently being denied overtime rates despite working antisocial hours, which the AWU says they are entitled to under the Seafood Processing Award.

The amount owing to employees, over the past six years, is estimated by the AWU to be several million dollars. The majority of workers are of Vietnamese, Nepalese and Pacific Islander background, many of whom have limited spoken English skills and are on temporary visas.

“We believe management has deliberately exploited a vulnerable workforce too afraid to speak up because of their precarious visa situations,” said Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU.

“This is a blatant case of wage theft and it’s deplorable. But instead of doing the right thing and owning up, Tassal are digging their heels in and doing everything they can to deny these workers their rightful wage.

“These are people that are working through the night to deliver food to tables across Australia and deserve far better. For a company like Tassal, it would barely make a dent in its profits, but would make a huge difference to some of the lowest paid workers in Australia who are surviving on the minimum wage right now.

“We are simply asking Tassal to pay these workers a fair wage to reflect the work they carry out when most of Australia is fast asleep.

“De Costi and Tassal are two of Australia’s flagship brands and I am sure its customers would be horrified to know their employees are being treated so unfairly.

“We applaud the courageous efforts of these workers in joining their union and fighting for fair wages. The AWU will back them every step of the way.”

One current worker who’s employed as a seafood process worker, said he was shocked when he found out he and his fellow workers were victims of wage theft.

He said: ‘It’s just not fair. This was one of my first jobs after arriving in Australia and I just didn’t know what I should be getting paid. I think De Costi took advantage of that because many of us employed here are from overseas and in a pretty precarious situation with our visas and therefore very unlikely to complain about low wages.

“This is a very hard job that takes a toll on you. We start work in the middle of the night and because I don’t have a car I have to get public transport to work which makes it even harder in the middle of winter.
“It was only when the AWU told us that we had been underpaid that we finally realised what had been going. I was really shocked that they were doing this to us and denying us a few extra dollars each week, especially as they are such a well known company.

“Getting paid more, what we actually deserve, would not only make a huge difference to my life but will also have a great impact on my fellow workers who have families to support.”

The full-time worker has worked start time hours at 2am, 3am and 4am and is currently earning around $19 an hour.

The AWU says the outcome of this case will affect all workers employed under this award, and potentially many other workers in other industries across Australia.

It is expected they case will be heard at the Federal Circuit Court next March or April.

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