FORMER South Grafton abattoir operator, Stuart Ramsey and his company Ramsey Food Processing have felt the force of the Federal Court which fined them $115,200 yesterday.
Justice Buchanan described Mr Ramsey's attempts to deny $60,000 of entitlements to workers as "a flagrant disregard for their legal rights".
"I regard the breaches in this case as very serious. They appear to me to have involved a deliberate, calculated and systematic refusal to comply with the requirements of the Workplace Relations Act and to take advantage of the vulnerability of the complainant employees," the judge said.
If it wasn't for the fact that things could always get worse he would have handed out the maximum fines possible he said.
As it was Mr Ramsey was fined $19,200 and Ramsey Food Processing Pty Ltd - through which he formerly operated the abattoir - a further $96,000. The combined fine represented 97 % of the maximum allowable under the law.
Former abattoir worker Paul Lumley was owed thousands of dollars by Mr Ramsey.
"It was about time," the courts held him to account, he said.
The attempt by Mr Ramsey to set up shadow companies to avoid worker payments was a sham, the judge said.
Justice Buchanan also noted in 2006, Ramsey shut down four companies he controlled to avoid paying more than $200,000 in fines and back-payment orders imposed by the Federal Court for underpayment of $125,000 in termination entitlements of South Grafton abattoir workers in 2002.
Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says the near-maximum penalty illustrates repeated, deliberate underpayment of employee entitlements was a very serious matter that will not be tolerated by the Courts.
"This case demonstrates that employers who try to use legal or corporate trickery to avoid paying staff their full entitlements will be held to account," Mr Wilson said.