By Mitchell Clarke
Employees of a Pakenham business have enlisted the support of the Australian Workers Union, after their employer allegedly failed to pay JobKeeper entitlements.
However, Jurgens Caravans Australia has reassured staff they’ll be back paid from 31 March, after a “number of administrative issues” halted the payment process.
“We have been working around the clock to make things right on all fronts,” a company spokesperson told the Gazette.
Jurgens stood down a total of 41 employees from their Pakenham factory on 24 March, after announcing they’d stop production as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
Ryan Cashman has been employed by the company on a full time basis for the past three years as a caravan assembler.
He said Jurgens gathered staff for a “quick meeting” to tell them the company would temporarily close and to “get on Centrelink”.
“It’s been very difficult, I didn’t really sleep because I was stressing where my next income was coming from,” Mr Cashman said.
“We were given a week’s pay, so the first couple of weeks were really tough because I needed to make that last nearly a month.”
Jurgens Caravans told the Gazette that the company’s challenges had begun well before the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 2017 strike in South Africa blamed for crippling their supply chain.
“This hamstrung our production and inevitably impacted on our cash flow,” the spokesperson added.
“Flow on effects included falling behind with creditors and a dispute with the landlord which caused a lockout for a week.”
The company said that staff had begun receiving JobKeeper, adding the ongoing payment till September would provide a “real lifeline” for the business and staff.
According to Mr Cashman, employees have received one instalment of the JobKeeper payment, as of Friday 29 May, however that payment didn’t include super or annual leave accrual.
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) said they will continue to work with the company to ensure all employee entitlements were paid.
AWU metro organiser Fez Riches said the situation could have been avoided with “genuine consultation”.
“It’s still an ongoing issue and we have no resolution. The company claim that they are in the process of fixing JobKeeper up for next week but no one has much faith that will actually happen,” Mr Riches said.
“This whole thing could have been avoided with genuine consultation. We could have sat down and sorted out how staff could access long service and annual leave but instead they decided to just shut up shop and completely close ranks.
“We want these guys back to work and if there’s no work to go back to, we want their entitlements.”
In a separate battle, AWU claim that Jurgens have not paid superannuation payments for over a year.
“The company said funds were made available and would come in about six months ago but it’s now been a grand total of 13 months since an employee has received a payment,” Mr Riches said.
Jurgens Caravans said their financial woes had impacted the superannuation payments.
“Regretfully our financial challenges has also put us in arrears with staff superannuation,” the spokesperson added.
“We remain 100 per cent committed to resolving this and will advise staff of a catch up program this month.”
The company is set to re-open manufacturing this week with a “skeleton production crew” working three days a week.