Emails provided to the ABC reveal Brisbane City Council (BCC) knew about allegations of exploitation relating to its sub-contracted IT workers almost three years ago — despite Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s assertion the Council only recently became aware of the issue.
In August this year, The Services Union (TSU) went public and alleged BCC were involved in “systematic and brazen” exploitation of IT workers at the Australian arm of the Indian tech firm, HCL.
BCC outsourced its functions to HCL about five years ago.
The union alleged the workers, at least three of whom were brought to Australia on 457 visas, were working extraordinary hours with no weekend, public holiday rates or overtime.
Emails obtained by the ABC show one of the IT workers approached the Lord Mayor’s office in December 2015, concerned with “unfair and unlawful activities happening in BCC since very long time”.
“I have already talked to Fair Work Ombudsman and have received a reference number from them, only thing left is to lodge a formal complaint,” he said in one email.
“HCL as well as BCC management knows about this issue but they are just ignoring it.
“I am scared that if I try to oppose the wrongdoings, I may loose [sic] my job.”
The Lord Mayor’s chief of staff responded to the worker the same day the email was received and forwarded the details to the council’s ethical standards manager, who spoke to the worker on the phone.
HCL are now one of two contenders for an IT contract with Queensland Rail.
Emails show the Lord Mayor’s chief of staff responding to worker exploitation allegations in 2015. (ABC News)
After TSU went public with allegations public earlier this year, Cr Quirk was asked in an August council meeting about council’s view on the allegations of “wage theft”.
Cr Quirk replied: “We had a situation where media drew to my attention a matter involving HCL Services Australia”.
“Council had not been aware of any exploitive practices in relation to this company.”
TSU secretary Neil Henderson said the allegations against HCL were “substantial, in relation to a substantial number of hours”.
“It looks to me like there wasn’t much protection in place to start with,” Mr Henderson said.
“These corporations, when they outsource their work, in our view still have a serious obligation to ensure that the workers who are ultimately doing the work are treated fairly and reasonably, even though they may not be direct employees.”
Council Opposition lord mayoral candidate Rod Harding has called on Cr Quirk to quit over the revelations.
“The Lord Mayor has got to resign, this is just a shocking allegation,” Mr Harding said.
“The fact that this occurred is incredibly bad, but the fact that the Lord Mayor lied about it to the Council is just so much worse.”
Brisbane City Council and HCL have been contacted for comment.