Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group cops record WA fine for exploiting foreign workers

The West Australian, Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Mark Povey, who was once worth $40 million, was penalised $72,240 while his wife Catherine Paino-Povey was fined $77,400.

A former Perth high-flyer, his wife and his cleaning company have been hit with a WA record fine of more than $500,000 after a judge slammed them for their “deliberate”, “repeated” and “systematic” exploitation of vulnerable overseas workers.

Mark Povey, who was once worth $40 million, was penalised $72,240, his wife Catherine Paino-Povey was fined $77,400, and their contract cleaning company, Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group Pty Ltd, has been penalised $361,200.

The fines were imposed by the Federal Circuit Court over the exploitation of three female Taiwanese workers who were in Perth on 417 working visas.

The workers were underpaid a total of $11,511 for various periods of work between June, 2012 and April, 2013.

One of the workers was paid just 34 per cent of what she was entitled to for two months’ work. She gave evidence that because of the underpayments, totalling $5106, she had to borrow money from a friend and only ate one meal a day to be able to pay her rent.

Another worker was paid nothing for three days’ work. The third worker was paid only about half of what she was entitled to over a three-month period, resulting in a total underpayment of $5836.

The fines are the highest penalties imposed on a Fair Work Ombudsman case in WA and the third highest penalties nationally.

The pair previously copped penalties totalling $343,860 in 2013 for deliberately exploiting local and overseas workers in Perth through another cleaning company they operated.

Judge Antoni Lucev said in his recent decision that the exploitation of workers in both cases “demonstrate similar circumstances and a similar mode of operation”.

“It is open to infer that the respondents’ actions towards the employees formed part of a deliberate business strategy to engage vulnerable employees, refuse to pay them during their first few weeks of employment, refuse to pay them their full entitlements when they fell due … and then refuse to pay outstanding wages owed to the employees on the termination of the employment relationship,” Judge Lucev said.

“Beyond the inherent seriousness of the respondents’ failure to afford the employees’ basic minimum employment entitlements in the form of regular wages and entitlements, there are significant aggravating factors in this case, including the deliberate and repeated nature of the respondents’ conduct, the prior similar conduct and the vulnerability of the employees.”