A Cairns-based tour operator who underpaid his workers has been sentenced to 12 months jail and fined more than $84,000 after he was found guilty of contempt of court, in a landmark case brought by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Leigh Alan Jorgensen spent Thursday night in jail, but was released on Friday after he appealed and secured an urgent stay against his conviction.
Judge Salvatore Vasta imposed the jail term in the Federal Circuit Court, and fined Jorgensen $84,956 after ruling that he had committed contempt of court by contravening a freezing order the Fair Work Ombudsman secured against his company in 2015.
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Employer Advisors, warned bosses that if the fair work umpire comes calling, you need to do what you’re told.
“The Ombudsman only takes on 55 cases each year, so if you find yourself in the gun, obey all the orders, pay what you owe, including the penalties, and try to run an honourable business that doesn’t rip off vulnerable workers.”
The case against Jorgensen is the first of its kind brought by the Fair Work Ombudsman, and began when he underpaid five backpackers who were on 417 working holiday visas a total of $30,000 in 2013 and 2014.
The freezing orders were imposed after Jorgensen threatened to bankrupt his business – Trek North Tours – rather than back-pay what he owed, including $67,000 in court-imposed fines.
He even told Fair Work inspectors that the workers “would not get a cent” in back-pay.
In August 2015, Jorgensen contravened the freezing order against his company by transferring $41,035 from two frozen accounts into his family trust account, without paying back what he owed.
“In this matter, the employer has ‘raised his middle finger’ to both the courts, and the poor backpackers he ruthlessly exploited by circumventing an order to freeze his cash,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Rule number one – if you’re going to take on the fair work umpire, don’t brag about how you’re not going to pay your fines and penalties, particularly if that means you’re going to fall foul of judicial orders.”
While a date for the appeal hasn’t been set, Jorgensen has been ordered to surrender his passport, not leave the state of Queensland and report to police twice a week.
To read more about this case, click here.
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