Five former employees of Flight Centre have told the first day of a trial in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane they were pressured to attend after-work functions and expected to do unpaid overtime.
- Flight Centre allegedly breached the Fair Work Act by failing to pay the appropriate annual leave and loadings on overtime
- Flight Centre has “categorically denied” any employees were paid below the minimum award
- The trial is expected to last until Thursday, with the ruling due to be handed down next year
- The case is being brought by the Together Union on behalf of the workers, who say they were underpaid a total of $200,000 over a series of years.
Four of the staff members worked in Queensland branches of Flight Centre and one was based in New South Wales.
The court heard the Brisbane-based company had breached the Fair Work Act by failing to pay the appropriate annual leave and loadings on overtime.
Charles Massy of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers told Judge Michael Jarrett Flight Centre had also failed to comply with provisions under the award for wages and provide two paid 10-minute breaks.
Attendance at company functions ‘mandatory’
At the centre of Monday’s testimony from the five former employees were so-called “buzz nights” — company functions that Flight Centre employees were expected to attend every month.
Although they received free food and drink, employees were not paid to be at the evening events that would last up to three hours.
Grace Barrett, who worked at Flight Centre in Townsville, said “we all had to go” to the “mandatory” gatherings where company awards would often be handed out.
Another former employee, Ruby O’Connor, who worked for Flight Centre at Sydney’s Warringah Mall, said buzz nights were sometimes used as staff training sessions.
But April Freeman, from Minter Ellison, which is acting for Flight Centre, asked Ms O’Connor if they were more “social occasions”, saying “you enjoyed them and wanted to go to them”.
“Sometimes, but not always,” Ms O’Connor responded.
The court heard Flight Centre employees often stayed later than 5:30pm, the end of their rostered shifts, without compensation.
Troy Dorosz, who worked at two different Flight Centre outlets on the Gold Coast, said he often had to work until 7:00pm to complete tasks or else face the wrath of customers.
“If I was to leave work, I ran the risk of losing the last seat or ticket prices going up — you have to hit targets or you don’t have a job,” Mr Dorosz said.
Two employees sit at their desks inside the Flight Centre store at South Bank in Brisbane.
Flight Centre employees say they were required to attend company functions every month.
Company accused of operating ‘dubious’ pay system
Flight Centre employees were paid a modest base salary, but could earn more through commissions based on their individual sales.
The allegations are from before October 2019 when the company changed its old pay system and introduced a new enterprise agreement.
Ahead of the trial, Maurice Blackburn principal Giri Sivaraman accused Flight Centre of operating a “dubious” pay system for at least 13 years, where commissions masked the underpayment of base salaries.
“What we say is that Flight Centre engaged these employees under the award, below award levels, and then said to them that they had to make bonuses or achieve commission targets to get to award rates,” Mr Sivaraman said.
“What we say is you can’t do that — you can’t pay someone for one reason and then use that same money for a completely different reason — it’s effectively double-dipping and we say it’s unlawful.”
When the Federal Court action was filed last April, Flight Centre “categorically denied” any employees were paid below the minimum award.
The case came about after workers approached their union with questions over a payslip.
Together Union spokesman Alex Scott said Flight Centre had for almost a decade used a “systemic approach to try and underpay workers”.
Mr Scott said the case could set a precedent around how people who worked for commission were paid.
“While this case is dealing with a handful of workers, it affects thousands of ex-workers and current workers within Flight Centre, but also a very significant precedent if we’re successful in defending the award system,” Mr Scott said.
“We should never have a system where large employers can try and rip off Queensland workers through their ability to underpay the award.”
The trial at Brisbane’s Federal Circuit Court is expected to last until Thursday, with Judge Jarrett due to hand down his ruling next year.