THIRTEEN former employees of Community Connections yesterday lodged formal complaints with the Fair Work Ombudsman after the social welfare agency repeatedly failed to pay them their redundancies.
Nanjing Night Net

The staff were dismissed after funding for the agency’s residential care and foster care programs was axed by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in December.

“We’re struggling,” Linda Wells said yesterday.

“Its difficult with the inconsistent income. I’ve got to pay the rent and things like the phone.

“I can’t go to Darwin to see my family,” the residential care worker of six years said.

Another worker, Peter Smith, spoke of people who had to cancel planned holidays with their families.

He said Community Connections Victoria (CCV) was inconsistent with its approach to paying staff entitlements. Workers who were laid off when the Department of Justice axed funding for financial counselling and gambler’s help programs had received their redundancies.

“How did they figure out they were going to pay them and not us?” he asked.

The staff were initially advised by the agency that they would receive their payouts in the first pay period after Christmas.

A spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman told The Standard it was conducting inquiries in relation to the matter. “As this matter is operational, it is not appropriate to comment further at this time,” he said.

Chief executive officer Bruce du Vergier said CCV had not been contacted by the Ombudsman about the “eligibility of redundancy entitlements to former staff connected to the agency’s long-standing, 25-year-old program of foster care and residential care which were abruptly ended on the 6th of December 2011 by DHS”.

He said CCV “continues to engage DHS with the need to settle on an appropriate and fair outcome to the real cost of redundancies to the agency and former staff”.

Australian Services Union organiser Leon Wiegard said the union was pushing for a fair outcome for its members at CCV.

“Community Connections have a responsibility to pay the redundancies owed as per their own enterprise agreement,” Mr Wiegard said.

“Negotiations between Community Connections and the department should not interfere with the agency taking responsibility for their own staff entitlements.”

Solicitor Creon Coolahan, who represents the sacked workers, said the reasons for the department’s actions were irrelevant to Community Connections’ legal obligation to pay its workers their entitlements.

“Those entitlements, as a matter of law, were due and payable on December 2, 2011. Consequently, in view of the ongoing refusal, neglect or failure to pay up a number of those workers have now lodged formal complaints with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office,” Mr Coolahan said.

“We have every confidence in the Ombudsman to take prompt and thorough action to recover these entitlements for those workers. We indeed encourage the Ombudsman to request the Federal Court to impose significant fines upon Community Connections for its conduct.”

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