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Seafood processor’s shift ruling scales new height for AWU members

March 24, 2022

De Costi Seafood, a subsidiary of Tasmanian-based Australian salmon farming company Tassal, will most likely have to pay its workers more than a million dollars in backpay after the Australian Workers’ Union won its case against the seafood giant in the Federal Court.

The decision has set a precedent for all Australian workers employed under the Seafood Processing Award and who undertake work prior to 6am.

The AWU brought a claim against Tassal on behalf of two members at De Costi’s western Sydney plant, whose shifts began before 6am but who were not paid penalty rates.

De Costi Seafood argued that employees working before 6am were not entitled to any payments for early starts.

But the court found the Seafood Processing Award requires that work performed before 6am be paid at overtime rates, that De Costi had contravened the Fair Work Act by failing to make these overtime payments, and compensation must be paid to its workers.

The AWU believes about 50 current workers — and hundreds of former employees — have been underpaid more than a million dollars in total over the past six years.

AWU National Secretary Dan Walton said it was a massive win for the workers and for the union.

“This proves once again that if workers join their union they can take on the boss and win big,” Mr Walton said.

“Many of these workers speak English as a second language and were afraid to speak up due to their precarious visa situations.

“Tassal took advantage of that in what was a blatant case of wage theft.

“And instead of admitting its mistake Tassal dug its heels in and did everything it could to deny these workers their rightful wages.”

AWU NSW Branch Secretary Tony Callinan said the case took years and enormous effort.

Part of the delay was due to the company not allowing the matter to be heard in the Fair Work Commission, which delayed the process for nearly a year.

“I’m so proud of everyone involved,” Mr Callinan said. “Hundreds of De Costi workers had been shortchanged by their employer for years. Now that money’s coming back to where it belongs.

“These women and men work bloody hard doing tough jobs to put food on Australian tables.

“If you get up in the middle of the night to work your shift in this country you deserve to be fairly compensated for that effort. That’s a principle Australians hold dear and we’ve proven today it’s one that still applies.

“But without their union they would have been forced to donate over a million dollars of their hard-earned to their employer.

“Tassal was certain it had found a technicality that would allow it to avoid paying penalty rates. We’ve fought that and we’ve won.”

On April 8, the court will consider the specific payments that De Costi Seafoods will need to make.

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