The Church of Scientology is facing a class action in Australia over claims it underpaid former workers.
On Tuesday night, ABC1’s Lateline revealed that a draft report by the Fair Work Ombudsman had found the church had wrongly classified employees as volunteers.
Law firm Slater and Gordon has also been looking into the claims and says under the Fair Work Act, those employees and ex-employees are owed large sums of money in wages, holiday pay, overtime and superannuation.
Slater and Gordon commercial litigation lawyer Steven Lewis says the firm has been investigating evidence from some of the church’s former workers.
“We have undertaken an investigation into that and we’ve come to the conclusion that indeed they were employees and they’re entitled to be paid wages, back wages and other entitlements including superannuation under the Fair Work Act,” he said.
Only those who worked for the Church of Scientology in the last six years are eligible to participate in any class action due to the statute of limitations.
Mr Lewis says evidence that some workers were getting as little as $10 a week means back-pay claims could be substantial.
“Potentially it could be for very large sums of money,” he said.
“In addition, the court has the authority under the Fair Work Act to impose a civil penalty in respect of each breach of the Act.”
Jordan Anderson, who featured in the Four Corners program that led to the Fair Work ombudsman’s inquiry, will be part of the class action.
Her mother Liz was one of the first people to talk to Slater and Gordon.
“This whole issue in relation to workplace relations has all come about because of Jordan’s treatment in the Sea Organisation where she worked for years – 9:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night – with little or no time off on a gruelling schedule,” she said.
“I was just driven because I knew that something was wrong. There is no way a person, a minor, should be treated like that.”