A political party “formed to fight for a fairer deal for property investors in New South Wales” will face legal action in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney after the Fair Work Ombudsman received more than 1,000 complaints from workers alleging they’d been the victims of unfairness.
It is alleged the No Land Tax Party promised to pay workers $30 an hour to hand out how-to-vote cards as New South Wales hit the hustings in March this year, but failed to pay them anything at all.
The party’s leader – Peter Jones, a former Labor member and official in the Postal Workers’ Union – will face charges of up to $10,200 per contravention of the Fair Work Act, while the party will face fines of up to $51,000 per contravention. Four contraventions are alleged.
The Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, said that “despite every effort to resolve this matter with Mr Jones without the need for legal action…his lack of co-operation made that impossible”.
It is thought that up to 3,600 workers were affected, but for “practical reasons” the Fair Work Ombudsman will only take legal action in relation to 21 workers, including teenagers, one as young as 14.
The Fair Work Ombudsman will allege that in respect of those 21 workers a total of $6,155 in wages went unpaid. A spokesperson said that “the Fair Work Ombudsman is seeking injunctions restraining both the [party]and Mr Jones from underpaying any workers in the future”.
“If the Fair Work Ombudsman is successful with the injunction, Mr Jones and the [party]could potentially face contempt of court proceedings for any further underpayments proven in court,” the spokesperson said.
As complaints over non-payment began to surface in early April Jones assured media that the workers who’d been engaged to hand out how-to-votes that all remuneration would be sorted out within a week, a promise that appears to have been broken.
Court documents allege that the party mailed flyers to homes around New South Wales ahead of the March election seeking “outgoing and enthusiastic” people to promote the party across the state on election day from seven in the morning to six at night.
On top of the $30 per hour base rate, bonuses of up to $500 were allegedly offered if candidates polled well which, as it turned out, none of them really did.
The fledgling property investors’ party attracted just over two per cent of the vote in the lower house and just under two per cent in the Legislative Council. Jones himself was most popular in his push for an upper house spot attracting 0.06 per cent of possible votes.
Since aligning himself with the No Land Tax Party, which the Daily Telegraph reported in March “consists of topless models, salsa dancers and former associates of Joe Tripodi”, Jones has attracted controversy.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has now alleged that Jones failed to comply with a Notice to Produce records and declined to participate in a record of interview with Fair Work inspectors, whose “number one priority [is]to try to ensure the many people who worked for the [party]received their full entitlements”.
Jones has previously admitted that the party received funds from “property developers” able to foot what’s likely to amount to a nearly $1 million bill owing to election day staff who promoted the party’s mantra of “a fairer deal for property investors”.
Despite its negligible electoral success and short, scandal-ridden history, the party came within clutching distance of a final seat in the state Parliament’s Legislative Council after it emerged a glitch in online voting systems may have skewed results in favour of rival Animal Justice Australia party.
As pressure for an election re-run for the final upper house seat built, Jones told media that only a judge “on the take” or “crystal meth” would fail to overturn the rival party’s victory.
And so it is – with a dollop of irony – Jones and the No Land Tax Party will soon front the courts.
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