Ministry investigating carwash kingpin

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
Michael Quan, of Stokes Valley, is unhappy after being sacked by boss Mick Willbourne.

RAW DEAL: Michael Quan, of Stokes Valley, is unhappy after being sacked by boss Mick Willbourne.

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A car-wash kingpin has been "blacklisted" by Work and Income after taking $40,000 in subsidies to hire workers, then paying them less than the minimum wage.

Michael "Mick" Willbourne, who operated several car washes across the country including two in Wellington, is also being investigated by the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry after a multitude of complaints by former employees.

The British immigrant refused to talk to The Dominion Post when contacted about the allegations. He said his lawyer would call back to deal with the inquiries. No calls were received.

Former employee Michael Quan began working for Mr Willbourne in March after the job was organised for him by his case manager. During his first month of work, he claims he received no money because Mr Willbourne said he was waiting for Work and Income to pay him.

After another two months, during which he calculates he received less than $9 an hour, he complained to his case manager and was then fired.

"He fired me after I narked on him . . . that's an unfair dismissal, you can't do that, can you?"

While working at the car wash in Wakefield St, he fell behind on his rent payments, and his family came close to being evicted.

Polly Tengu, who worked at the same car wash with daughter Samantha, said they were both paid well under the minimum wage and knew of others who had received well under the minimum wage.

Often Mr Willbourne would attempt to pay in cash at random intervals, and she had discovered that no money had been deposited into her KiwiSaver account during her employment.

Whenever money issues were raised with Mr Willbourne, he would just "give us grief", she said.

Mr Willbourne's business, Wash Works, ran a car wash in Thorndon and one called Shop n Shine in Wakefield St, which stopped operating earlier this year.

The former manager of his Wakefield St site, Karl Raubenheimer, said he moved to New Plymouth to start another car wash for Mr Willbourne and had been left about $2000 out of pocket.

There were also six New Plymouth staff who were owed hundreds of dollars, he said.

He believed the business had been quite lucrative and those workers who were on Work and Income subsidies were cheap to employ, so it was a mystery to him why staff were not paid.

"The fact is he just paid everyone late and then disappeared one day and didn't pay anyone.

"He moved to Auckland and did the same thing, and just up and left . . ."

In a March article in the Taranaki Daily News, Mr Willbourne was praised for taking on young workers by Work and Income, which said his initiative was to be applauded.

This week Work and Income Wellington regional commissioner Louise Waaka confirmed $39,807 was paid to Mr Willbourne as wage subsidies for 13 beneficiaries.

Nine of the subsidies were for employees at Mr Willbourne's Wellington car washes, and four were for his New Plymouth business.

The money was paid under the now-defunct Job Ops With Training programme, which provided incentives to businesses for employing beneficiaries under 25.

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One complaint was received in December regarding holiday pay, and placements at Wash Works were stopped in March after four more complaints were received, Ms Waaka said.

"Work and Income has blacklisted Wash Works' Mr Willbourne, and is taking action to recover the money he owes us. We are no longer working with this employer, and have no intention of doing so again."

Concerns raised about employers were taken very seriously and Work and Income was trying to recover $6846 from Mr Willbourne for placements that ended early.

Dave Hulston, service manager of the labour group of the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry, confirmed an investigation was under way.

He refused to answer questions regarding the nature of any complaints.

Mr Willbourne has been behind a string of failed businesses in the capital. It is understood he has recently moved to Auckland.

* The jobs scheme introduced in July 2011, time-limited to a year. It gave employers a $5000 wage subsidy for taking on staff, with $3000 paid at the start of a six-month placement and a further $2000 at the end. Almost 3000 young people were placed into employment in the first year. It has since been replaced with the Job Streams programme.

- The Dominion Post

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