A suspected fraudster has allegedly taken advantage of a group of Afghan men who claim they were not paid for work on a Perth building site.
The man has also apparently defrauded the company National Ceramics, which claimed he also stole equipment and materials, and overcharged the company.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has claimed the 15 tilers engaged at the Balmoral Aged Care Facility expansion in Como have wages totalling more than $50,000 owed to them.
Union organiser Vinnie Molina said the men were resorting to living off charity, and borrowing money from friends.
“It is a very atrocious situation. They come here with the expectation of a better life and what they found is they’re getting ripped off,” he said.
The men are permanent residents in Australia.
The head contractor of the Como project is Badge Constructions.
Some of the men, joined by union supporters, set up a protest picket outside the Badge office in Osborne Park on Thursday before police asked them to move on.
Mr Molina said the ultimate responsibility to help the men rested with Badge.
“The lack of English is always an issue where they’re vulnerable for exploitation.”
Sub-contractor allegedly defrauded
According to National Ceramics, it also fell victim to the fraud, and the man responsible also stole property from various sites.
The company said it engaged the Afghan workers through the man who had an arrangement to pay them himself.
It said the man had initiated contact with National Ceramics in March, and secured his own sub-contract.
The company said the cash payments occurred at the request of the man and the 15 Afghan workers.
At some point, the alleged fraudster stopped paying the workers.
National Ceramics said it had attempted to contact him numerous times without success and believed he may have since left the country.
The company said it was pursuing the issues through both WA Police and Fair Work Building & Construction.
The company said it had recently become aware of allegations that the man may have done something similar in NSW, and allegedly had banking accounts frozen by the Australian Taxation Office.
National Ceramics disputes $50,000 claim
The National Ceramics spokesman said the company later put gratuity payments into the Afghan workers’ bank accounts, on the basis they completed the job to a specified standard.
The company confirmed it had then employed another contractor so the job could be finished.
It has also disputed the CFMEU’s estimate that more than $50,000 was owed to the 15 tilers.
National Ceramics accused the union of making threats after demanding payment to the workers, despite the monies having been paid to the alleged fraudster.
The union wrote to the Badge Group in August detailing concerns about the so-called ‘supervisor’.
The letter said the man did not pay payroll tax, did not carry a workers’ compensation policy, and did not pay tax on his business income.
The CFMEU also expressed concerns about the cash payments in particular, as well as claims the employees were not paid superannuation, and not registered for leave contributions.
Badge Constructions was contacted for comment.