Workers 'lose thousands' as attempts to chase entitlements met with silence
A northern Victorian construction company that owes almost $1 million in unpaid super and wages is facing legal action from the Australian Tax Office.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is chasing $935,241 from Shepparton-based panel precast operation Rokez Constructions Pty Ltd, which has operated under site changes since 2005.
The amount includes $853,767 of income tax and $81,473 in superannuation.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) claims that the company, under director Robert Kezerle, owed thousands of dollars to former employees, transport companies and suppliers.
Two former staff members also claimed they and four others were put on forced leave by management and unfairly dismissed without notice.
In seeking to recover the entitlements, the ATO has applied to wind-up Rokez Constructions — a move that CFMEU representative Mark Tait said effectively placed the company into receivership.
The move leaves workers and suppliers with little hope of recovering their money.
Rokez Constructions’ director Robert Kezerle has ceased contact with the union and journalists. (Supplied: Facebook)
Mr Tait said the union’s investigation and negotiations with the company had been ongoing for almost four years, but director Robert Kezerle recently ceased contact.
“We have some grave concerns, we don’t think there’s any money left in the company, we’d be surprised if the workers or contractors get any money at all,” Mr Tait said.
“It’s had a huge impact on the workers. Some of them have families, and we know there’s a lot of them that are really struggling.”
He also claimed the company had not paid long service leave contributions and there had been no money put into a redundancy fund.
The ABC made multiple attempts to interview Mr Kezerle but was unsuccessful in receiving a response to the claims.
Workers unfairly dismissed, owed thousands
Former Rokez workers Kurt Denke and Wade Bonham claimed they were owed at least $60,000 each in entitlements.
They claimed superannuation had not been paid since last year, on top of other entitlements such as holiday pay and correct hourly rates.
Just last month, they and four others were put on forced leave and were then told via text message that they had been let go, despite previously being told there would be ongoing work.
The men said they took the matter to Fair Work Australia and contacted the CFMEU, but had little hope in getting their money back.
“It’s been difficult for both of us to pick up work again at this time of year, there’s no real work around,” Mr Denke said.
Mr Bonham said he just wanted the money he was owed.
“I think not only me but everyone else would be happy with our entitlements and what we’re owed,” he said.
The site where former Rokez Constructions workers Kurt Denke and Wade Bonham worked. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Will Kendrew)
“In any industry or company, it’s just not right. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and we’re not the only people they’ve done it to as well, so let’s set the line straight and sort it out.”
Companies difficult to prosecute
Mr Tait said he believed it was easy for companies in Australia to avoid paying workers what they were owed.
“I think some of the corporate laws around at the moment have allowed companies to get under the radar. They can be cunning in the way they manipulate book systems,” he said.
La Trobe University professor of law Louis de Koker backed the notion.
He said while it was not impossible to retrieve money owed, a large stumbling block was a lack of financing to pursue an investigation.
“Once the facts are established it’s not that difficult to prosecute. The problem lies in establishing the facts,” Professor de Koker said.
“Government has been focused on not necessarily only improving the law, but also improving its capacity and intelligence.”
The ATO has declined to comment on the case.