Smallgoods, big fine: Federal Court slams businessman for underpaying staff in “chaotic” food and retail business

A Federal Magistrate has slammed an “unsuccessful” businessman for operating a “chaotic” work environment which led to him underpaying staff by more than $70,000 in both wages and superannuation.

The court fined Adelaide man Andrew Sitarenos $24,280.

Magistrate Stuart Lindsay said Sitarenos has had a “singularly unsuccessful career as a small businessman”.

Sitarenos operates the poultry processing and retail business Uncle Tom’s Quality Smallgoods. Sitarenos has had a troubled career – the Fair Work Ombudsman initiated legal action last year against his company Melland Pty Ltd, but it went into liquidation.

Sitarenos has been involved in Uncle Tom’s Quality Smallgoods for several years.

Sitarenos admitted to the court he had underpaid seven staff more than $45,000 in wages, ranging from anywhere between $143 to as much as $17,000, with four more staff owed more than $26,000 in superannuation.

“It is clear that the conduct of the business was chaotic,” Lindsay said in the decision yesterday.

“Wages were rarely paid on time or in full, record-keeping was haphazard, creditors, including WorkCover, were regularly unpaid and there was difficulty in meeting orders on behalf of clients.”

The incident paints a picture of an entrepreneur who is “manifestly unable to confront in an orderly and clear and decisive way the chronic cash flow and administrative problems in his business”.

Lindsay also said the behaviour was “deliberate” and extended, while the staff themselves were unskilled and only paid a modest wage.

“The way in which Sitarenos conducted the business was chaotic and his failure to meet his wage obligations on time obviously led to uncertainty and disadvantage on the part of the employees.”

If authorities had not stepped in, the behaviour would have continued, Lindsay said.

But the story doesn’t end there. Sitarenos told Lindsay he had little or no money in the bank, but the magistrate was sceptical, saying he must have had at least some cash or access to money after Sitarenos started up a tea packing business.

The size of the fine is necessary, he said, because Sitarenos “is likely to be tempted to fall into these bad management practices affecting his employees again”.




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