Boss fined for 'harrowing' two years

Last updated 17:25 06/12/2012
Kevin Andrews
FINED: Kevin Andrews is sentenced for providing an unsafe workplace in which he abused employees.

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A magistrate who described a former businessman's two-year physical, psychological and verbal bullying of his employees as "disgusting and appalling" has declared that such behaviour "must be stamped out".

The magistrate Hugh Radford said the effects of Kevin Andrews' conduct against his workers at an industrial laundry near Mildura was "harrowing and profound".

Radford did not accept the defence description of Andrews' behaviour as "old school" and instead said it was "simply disgusting and appalling".

Radford noted that Andrews told a woman she "should have been drowned at birth" and called another "porky", "wog" and a "big fat bush pig".

He threatened to dissolve employees in acid, told a woman a rapist was "waiting for you" and said all women were "dogs" who were "only good for one thing".

Andrews also grunted and yelled at staff, threatened to lock them up with a dog and struck employees' desks with sticks or threw items.

Melbourne Magistrates Court heard on Wednesday that he also distributed a "General Fines List" for staff for breaches that included swearing, not replacing toilet rolls or delivering wrong goods.

Radford said Andrews' behaviour was "simply unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in a modern society".

Andrews, 61, a disability pensioner who owned the Mallee Laundry and Linen Services at Irymple, which has since been liquidated, had pleaded not guilty to failing to provide a safe work environment.

After finding the charge proved following a hearing in Mildura in which 12 former employees, including 10 women, gave evidence, Radford said Andrews had a "complete lack of insight", had shown no remorse and accused the witnesses of lying and colluding against him.

Radford, who noted a fine was the only sentence he could impose for the charge, convicted and fined Andrews A$50,000 – the maximum fine available was A$53,715 – with A$50,000 costs.

He said in his sentencing remarks it was clear the employees had worked hard for Andrews and had had limited employment opportunities, but "in many ways were financially trapped".

They and their families needed the money, said Radford, who told Andrews a number of them "put up with the abuse and the bullying that you dished out until they could not take it any longer".

A consultant workplace psychologist reported that for some employees this caused relationship breakdowns, depression and an exacerbation of pre-existing psychological conditions.

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The expert said Andrews' behaviour and the negative work environment "present one of the most extreme cases" he has reviewed.

Radford did not accept the defence description of Andrews' behaviour as "old school" and instead said it was "simply disgusting and appalling".

One witness in her victim impact statement said after working for Andrews she "lost my friends, my life, my world and my mind..."

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Ian Forsyth said bullying was not acceptable in any workplace under any circumstances.

Forsyth said in a statement: “This is a clear example of an employer breaking the law by exposing employees to persistent and repeated negative behaviour that posed a real risk to their health and safety.

“It also sends a clear message to employers and workers that they should do the right thing and step in before things go off track at work.

"Victoria is at the forefront of Australia's OH&S regulators in taking action against workplace bullying and is leading the country in terms of investigating these types of behaviours and where the evidence supports it, launching prosecutions.

"We have also recently revised our guidance material covering bullying in the workplace to provide employers and employees with better insight into how it can be prevented and in the event that bullying is happening, how to respond.

“Where there's evidence to support it, we'll investigate and prosecute cases where an employer has failed to step in or turned a blind eye when they know something is wrong at work.”

- The Age

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