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Brokerage underpaying staff slammed with $99k penalty

by Adrian Suljanovic9 minute read

The Fair Work Ombudsman has penalised a Melbourne-based mortgage broking business for payment contraventions.

Melbourne-based mortgage broking business Ansa Finance Pty Ltd has been penalised $99,900 in court secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for its failure to take the steps required to back-pay its workers.

The Federal Circuit and Family Court imposed penalties in two separate decisions totalling $83,250 against the Ansa Financial, along with penalties totalling $16,650 against its manager Joshua Fuoco.

Allegedly, Fuoco was involved in contraventions with regard to the business failing to comply with compliances notices that required the back payment of five workers and failing to issue pay slips to one of the workers.

Additionally, the court has ordered Ansa Finance to comply with the compliance notices in both cases. This includes rectifying any underpayments in full, plus interest and superannuation.

Ansa Finance’s workers were reportedly underpaid an estimated total of more than $17,000. The brokerage employed workers as finance brokers through several periods between February 2020 and November 2021.

The FWO opened investigations into Ansa Finance following requests for assistance from the affected workers.

FWO Anna Booth stated business operators that do not act on compliance notices must be aware that they can face penalties in court on top of being required to back-pay workers.

“The substantial total penalties here are a reminder to all employers of what they risk when Compliance Notices are not followed – we will pursue enforcement through court action,” Booth said.

“We act to protect the rights of employees. Any employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact us for free advice and assistance.”

According to the FWO, Ansa Finance was issued five compliance notices from a Fair Work inspector in 2021 and 2022 in response to the brokerage’s underpaying of five workers’ minimum wages, leave entitlements, and payment in lieu of notice upon termination of employment under the Banking, Finance and Insurance Industry Award 2020 and the Fair Work Act’s National Employment Standards.

Ansa Finance was required to calculate and back-pay the workers’ entitlements as per the compliance notices.

Judge Jonathan Forbes ruled that the failure to comply with the compliance notices was “deliberate and that Ansa Finance and Mr Fuoco had not demonstrated any remorse” concerning four of the compliance notices.

“The whole of the evidence points to acts of conscious evasion of responsibility where the respondents have chosen to put their own interests ahead of the employees’ right to be paid,” Judge Forbes said.

As such, Judge Forbes found in that case Fuoco had not taken the corrective steps or action necessary, despite indicating at various stages that he intended on rectifying the employees’ underpayment.

“Where compliance notices are issued and an employer is afforded an opportunity to correct shortcomings, the notices should be met with compliance. Notices cannot be ignored,” Judge Forbes said.

In relation to the fifth compliance notice, Judge Forbes found that the conduct was “serious and imposed unnecessary cost and inconvenience upon the Ombudsman and the Court”.

Ultimately, Judge Forbes declared there was a need to impose penalties against Ansa Finance and Fuoco in order to deter other employers from similar contraventions in the future.

Fuoco’s previous charges

This recent charge is the latest in Fuoco’s foray with government regulators. In February 2023, Fuoco pleaded guilty and was convicted of one count of “managing a corporation while disqualified” in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court following a referral and investigation from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

In 2016, Fuoco was disqualified from managing corporations for at least two years and six months after two of the companies where he was a director, FP Investment Partners Pty Ltd and Equilibrium FS Pty Ltd, were wound up.

ASIC alleged that during this time, Fuoco was involved in a small loans provider Financial Circle.

He was fined the sum of $6,000 following his guilty plea.

Furthermore, Fuoco was ordered to pay a penalty of $650,000 after it was determined that three Melbourne-based firms (Wealth and Risk Management, Yes FP and Jeca Holdings) were the subject of legal action by ASIC following accusations of numerous wrongdoings in 2018.

The Federal Court ordered the companies to pay penalties totalling $7,150,000 after ASIC accused the businesses of advertising “fast cash” to consumers with poor credit histories.

[RELATED: Financial Circle director convicted and fined]

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