Wollongong Coal up for $1.3 million in unpaid bonuses

An application by Wollongong Coal to dismiss an action to enforce payment of bonuses has been refused by the Federal Circuit Court.

The Collieries’ Staff and Officials Association (CSOA) division of APESMA (Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia) made an application to enforce bonus payments to entitled employees of Wollongong Coal (formerly Gujarat NRE).

The bonuses, worth $1.3 million, were payable to 85 supervisory, technical and management employees for meeting production targets in 2013 and 2014.

CSOA director Catherine Bolger said employees were offered share options in 2001, which were then transferred to a yearly paid bonus system in 2011.

“They did not pay employees what was due in April 2013 and April 2014,” she said.

Wollongong Coal lodged the application to have the claim dismissed on the basis that the did not have the standing to bring the claim, and that Fair Work Act provisions could not be used to enforce a contractual entitlement to a bonus payment.

However, Judge Buchanan held that APESMA did have standing, and that contractual entitlements such as bonus payments were covered in section 12 of the Fair Work Act.

APESMA has also brought the claim under section 323, which would mean if Wollongong Coal are found to have breached the section by failing to pay bonuses, they will be exposed to penalties.

Judge Buchanan said there is an arguable case for the bonus to be enforceable.

Wollongong Coal asked employees to take a pay cut in May, in order to save around 120 jobs, as production issues had hampered the Wongawilli operation.

Wollongong Coal, or Gujarat at the time, also had asked workers to take leave without pay in October 2013, on the same day that executive chairman Arun Jagatramka stepped down.

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