Cairns backpackers underpaid $30,000

December 12th, 2014 | | news

Screen shot 2014-12-12 at 4.01.18 PMCairns operator ‘Trek North Safari’s’ has come under fire for underpaying 5 backpackers on a 417 visa by a whopping $30,000.

Businessman Leigh Alan Jorgensen claimed he never employed the backpackers at his Cairns-based Trek North Tours, the Fair Work Ombudsman says.

The watchdog launched legal action against Mr Jorgensen and his company on Thursday.

It’s alleged five backpackers, aged between 23 and 32, were unpaid almost $30,000 in total when they worked for Trek North Tours between August last year and April this year.

They were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas from Hong Kong, The Netherlands, Italy and Taiwan.

After they lodged complaints earlier this year, inspectors allegedly found they were paid flat rates of between $10 and $16.37 an hour – in some cases, they weren’t paid at all.

Under the award, they should have been paid at least $17.98 for normal hours and up to $37.56 an hour for penalty shifts.

Mr Jorgensen allegedly refused to cooperate with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation, telling inspectors “you will not get a cent” and claiming he never employed the backpackers at all.

 Ombudsman Natalie James said inspectors tried to resolve the matter outside court, but were unable to.

“We were left with no option but to commence this legal action to recover the money allegedly owing to these workers,” Ms James said.

A directions hearing is listed for December 15 in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane.

Written by Thomas Wheeler


7 Responses

  1. Suzi says:

    Were they accepting cash in hand? Did they gladly work for cash money and then suddenly decided they wanted to go ‘on the books’?

    Why does Mr Jorgensen flatly refuse to acknowledge that he employed them?

    Sometimes it is not always the employers fault. Something is missing in this article…….

    $37.56 penalty rates an hour for unskilled labour – wow. And we wonder why Australia is uncompetitive in global business.

    • Leigh Jorgensen says:

      Hi Suzi – Correct – they were a group of interns who we caught making fraudulent bookings for friends and for cash. They were swiftly shown the door. Their response was to go and use our FWO as a free attack dog. I was too busy to take on the army of social workers and so let them pass a ridiculous “default” judgement from a seriously bitter industrial judge down in Brisbane. The entire fiasco was a simple PR stunt by FWO and Natalie James has refused to take a recorded conversation with me on many occasions but the media will never tell anyone the truth or even the outcome.
      There was a 4 hour hearing in Feb this year and they the FWO left nothing despite wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

  2. RIck says:

    I do agree with Suzie,

    Sometimes there is more to things than what the backpackers say. Most are happy to work for cash and move on.. Some want Cash and then decide they want everything else too.. Known one case where backpacker was paid cash per hour over Min rate claimed he was paid $10 per hour and got half as much again because he lied..

    Whats the followup with the directions hearing??

  3. Brooke says:

    I’d be asking to see their employment contracts first.
    No employment contract, no pay. Simple.

    Like the other commenters said – were they accepting Cash in Hand? Because that boils down to a different kettle of fish!

    Boy – flat rates of between $10 and $16 – what a hard life! I remember when Tauranga NZ was known as $10 tauranga (circa 2005) as the minimum wage was set that low – BEFORE TAX !!!
    Hoping that NZ catches up to Aussie wages sometime soon…….

  4. LUCY says:

    when you know that trek north doesnt have any insurance on their bus and they travel with 60 pax at least per day, or that Mr jorgensen have 5 tour desks in the city and doesnt have any travel licence, well you dont expect more than this.
    it has been 6 months since this article and guess what he is still paying people 10 dollars an hour for multilingual staff. it`s a shame for australia that foreigner have to experience this and figure out that Fair work doesnt care that this is still happening. Lot of hypocrisy from this company but also from fair work that obviously prefer to close their eyes on what`s still happening.

    • Oscar says:

      Hi Lucy,

      yes its true, Trek North and Leigh Jorgensen did no other thing than fraud and cheat the system all. Tthey not only do not have insurance in their vehicles, do not service vehicles, do not take them to the pit, do not pay National Parks for their permits, and Greg C, they must pay National parks for they permits. They also cheat staff, do not pay what should and the list go on and on,

      I am happy to see that finally it seems that Leigh Jorgensen is going jail, and he will need to pay thousands of dollars for rip off people and workers.

  5. Greg C says:

    @LUCY, I think you will find there is no longer a requirement for a travel agent to hold a licence in Australia.

    Always do your research before posting comments.