A Melbourne-based cleaning company that told migrants they would qualify for permanent residency if they paid to complete a four week training program is facing court after the consumer watchdog initiated action this week.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission alleges Clinica asked migrants to pay significant sums of money on a misleading promise that they would be provided with sponsors and regional jobs which would lead to permanent residency in Australia.
The watchdog alleges between August 2012 and July 2013, Clinica told clients through its advertisements, oral statements, contracts and receipts that they would qualify for permanent residency by completing a 4-week cleaning course. The company told clients it had cleaning jobs with sponsoring employers available on the completion of the course.
However, the ACCC says Clinica did not have any such jobs available, and if there were cleaning jobs available, they would not have met the requirements for permanent residency under the relevant visa.
In promoting and implementing the program, the watchdog says Clinica engaged in unconscionable conduct.
It is also alleged Clinica’s current sole director, Radovan Montague Laski, was knowingly concerned in the conduct.
The ACCC has previously taken legal action against Laski in 2003 for misleading or deceptive conduct in relation to the sale and promotion of orange juice vending machines, including allegations he told clients his company had secured deals with major supermarkets, when it had not.
The ACCC is now seeking declarations, injunctions, a disqualification order against Laski and compensation orders for the clients, pecuniary penalties, findings of fact and costs.
“The alleged conduct by Clinica targeted some of the most vulnerable groups in our community with a view to profit,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.
“The ACCC is currently prioritising its work in the area of consumer protection issues impacting on vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, with a particular focus on consumers who are newly arrived in Australia.”
The matter will be heard in Melbourne on June 23.
Rohan Harris, principal at law firm Russell Kennedy, told SmartCompany the ACCC has flagged it will crackdown on companies that deal with vulnerable members of the community.
“In general, if you are dealing with disadvantaged groups, such as people who don’t have proper command of English, then there several obligations you have,” says Harris.
Generally speaking, Harris says businesses cannot target vulnerable groups and cannot bring customers in by telling them the business has the ability to do something it does not.
“If you’re using their disadvantage to your advantage or to their detriment, there are multiple obligations you have to consider,” Harris says.
SmartCompany was unable to contact Clinica.