The former owner of an industrial laundry in Mildura Victoria who subjected his staff to physical, psychological and verbal bullying over a two-year period was recently convicted and fined $50,000 and ordered to pay $50,000 in costs.
Kevin Andrews was charged with failing to take reasonable care to ensure his company provided its workers with a safe working environment under section 21 of the OHS Act 2004.
The sentence in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court followed a three-week hearing in Mildura Magistrates’ Court, and WorkSafe Victoria called 19 witnesses, including 12 former employees – ten of which were women.
During the hearing, the court was told that Andrews, who owned and operated Mallee Laundry and Linen Services at Irymple, repeatedly bullied many of his employees between January 2007 and January 2009.
Employees told the court that Andrews insulted them, used foul and aggressive language towards them, and threatened them with physical harm involving dogs and sticks.
One employee told the court that Andrews often threatened to dissolve staff in acid, and told one staff member she should have been shot at birth.
The court was told that Andrews would often push laundry trolleys into the back of the legs of staff members and on one occasion threw a fan into a nearby lane after workers complained of having to operate in hot conditions without air conditioning.
One witness told the court that Andrews would often say: “If you are going to die, die quietly, or if you are going to cry, cry quietly and if you have an accident, don’t tell me about it.”
Magistrate Hugh Radford rejected Andrews’ defence that his behaviour was not criminal, and that there was collusion among the prosecution witnesses.
He found that Andrews’ conduct amounted to physical, verbal and psychological bullying which led to his victims suffering, and he said some employees were still suffering four to five years later.
In sentencing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, Magistrate Radford said the seriousness of the offending was overwhelming.
He said Andrews took advantage of vulnerable workers who worked very hard for him and took pride in their work, but were financially trapped and had to put up with his abuse and bullying.
“Your behaviour was simply disgusting and appalling,” he said. “It’s a clear message to other employers that this behaviour will not be tolerated by the courts. It is simply unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in modern society."