The Global Work and Travel Co (Global) pays back $25,000 to customers after OFT investigatedDecember 16th, 2015 | | industry
Gold Coast-based ‘The Global Work and Travel Co’ (pictured: Jurgen Himmelmann, Director and Co-Founder) has agreed to pay back thousands of dollars to travellers and backpackers after a Queensland Government investigation found what it believed were some unfair terms in the company’s contracts.
Twenty-nine people who had signed up for assistance on their gap-year travels are receiving partial refunds from The Global Work and Travel Co (Global), totalling $25,655. Global arranges travel and employment packages for 10,000 young people each year, primarily in Australia, UK, USA and Canada.
A joint ABC and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) investigation in November 2014 (ABC reported) unearthed dozens of angry customers, who accused Global of charging big mark ups, using high pressure sales tactics, and making false promises about employment. The company denied misleading consumers or marking up flights and said its customer satisfaction rate was between 97.5 and 99 per cent. However, The Queensland Office of Fair Trading (OFT) received more than 70 complaints after the ABC and CBC stories in November 2014 and have negotiated with Global to pay partial refunds to 29 of those customers.
The partial refunds, which range from approximately $200 to $1,500, come after a 13 month investigation by the OFT. Investigators raided the company’s Surfers Paradise headquarters in February 2015, seizing documents and computer files, and escalated the case to the OFT’s Major Investigations Unit.
The following month Global put two arms of its company into voluntary liquidation, telling customers the move was a restructure to clean up its accounting practices.
Director of tactical compliance for the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland, Steve L’Barrow, said the OFT’s main concern was the terms and conditions in Global’s contracts. “Our view was that several of the terms were unfair under the Australian consumer law,” Mr L’Barrow told the ABC. “Our focus was to try and get The Global Work and Travel Co to change those terms and rectify the issues they’d actually caused by relying on those terms.”
Mr L’Barrow said many of the young travellers the OFT investigators spoke to claimed they had felt pressured to sign up for expensive Global programs and some arrived in other countries to find the services they had paid for, such as assistance with setting up a bank account, were not comprehensive or helpful.
Some customers complained after arriving for volunteer programs in Africa and Sri Lanka that did not exist. “I would describe the conduct of this company as unethical and indifferent,” Mr L’Barrow said. “They really didn’t care about what financial position they were putting the kids in and they didn’t care that their conduct was unfair.
“In my opinion they were probably one of the most uncooperative companies that we’ve actually dealt with, short of the ones where they don’t want to speak to you at all, they were just that next level up.
“We will keep them on our radar and if there is any significant spike in complaints again about their conduct they can certainly be assured we will be knocking on their door again.” Company admits it ‘overlooked a few things’ and ‘made mistakes’
“We admit – readily admit – that we are a very fast growing start-up company, and in that growth process, we have overlooked a few things and learned some valuable lessons along the way,” the company said. “While we are relieved that the vast majority of complaints were frivolous and without merit, we still want to ensure that ALL of our customers receive a world class and meaningful travel experience.”
During the course of the OFT investigation, officers spoke to several of Global’s former employees – many of whom had blown the whistle about the company’s practices in November 2014. “I’m really glad that we all spoke out,” former sales person Louisa Canning said. “I’m glad that the customers are getting their money back. None of us wanted really to be working there at the end of the day and pushing people into buying things, so I’m stoked [the customers] have been able to get back what they deserve.”
Sourced by Chris Harrison