Leading workplace law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has launched a land-mark test case alleging a Victorian finance company and its CEO unlawfully slashed the salary of a senior manager by more than 80 per cent under the guise of COVID-19 and the JobKeeper program.
Mark Cornell has worked for Mildura Finance, a subsidiary of Platform Financial Services since 2003, rising to manager and assisting rural family businesses to obtain equipment finance.
Mr Cornell's annual remuneration was $202,650 but in April the company slashed his salary to just $40,000 despite the business remaining busy and profitable. The new salary was equivalent to just the JobKeeper payment.
The Federal Court Statement of Claim alleges that Mr Cornell was told:
a. all employees would be required to go on JobKeeper but would be required to work the required hours to meet their work-loads;
b. That profitable divisions could have a profit share arrangement on top of JobKeeper;
c. The company was not required to put anything in writing;
d. The company would stand down Mr Cornell without pay until he filled in a JobKeeper form;
Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein said Mr Cornell alleged that Mildura Finance had breached the Fair Work Act 2009 and repudiated his employment contract because, in slashing Mr Cornell's wage, the company had:
a. Not consulted Mr Cornell;
b. Made it impossible for Mr Cornell to fulfil his obligations to his clients at a particularly busy time for the business
c. Acted unreasonably;
d. Failed to provide at least 3 days' notice of its decision; and
e. Breached the most fundamental terms of the employment contract.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein said the Court would decide whether directions that were given to Mr Cornell by the Company and its CEO – and therefore other employees - were lawful.
"In this case, the Federal Court will be asked to adjudicate on the requirements that an employer must meet to qualify for JobKeeper and whether lawful directions were given to employees," Mr Bornstein said.
"The manner in which Mr Cornell was treated has caused considerable distress to both him and his wife. He is seeking penalties and compensation for breaches of the Fair Work Act and damages for breach of contract, payment."