GOOD JOB: A massive heat exchanger nears completion at W E Smith Engineering.
GOOD JOB: A massive heat exchanger nears completion at W E Smith Engineering. Rob Wright

W.E. Smith wage battle set for court

THE union representing unpaid workers at W.E. Smith is preparing to launch legal action against the company in a bid to recover thousands of dollars in wages owed to employees.

As of Monday, 80 employees at the company's Boambee factory were owed between seven to eight weeks in wages as well as 11 months' superannuation and other entitlements.

Despite the company securing a $6 million contract in December, W.E. Smith's management said wages and entitlements would be paid according to "improved cash flows".

Several employees this week told The Advocate their "mortgages were on the line" amid growing uncertainty about when they would be paid in full.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says it's now preparing to file a claim against the company to the Federal Circuit Court. The court has the power to order companies to pay wages, as well as impose heavy fines on employers.

AMWU state secretary Tim Ayres wrote to W.E. Smith's chief executive William Vanvliet this week saying he would visit the factory to meet with affected employees on Monday.

"Our (union) members continue to show up for work despite W.E. Smith falling further into arrears (debt)," Mr Ayres wrote in the letter.

"W.E. Smith have refused to make concrete commitments to repay outstanding employee entitlements (and) despite giving clear commitments to the AMWU and the Fair Work Commission that superannuation payments would resume, they too have stopped."

Concerns have been flagged with Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker who said he had made representation to various bodies on behalf of employees.

He said the Federal Government offered some financial support for people who are owed wages under its General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme.

But the scheme is not accessible to W.E Smith employees as the company is in operation.

An affected employee this week told The Advocate that while workers were determined to keep the doors open, "enough was enough".

"It's since May (last year) that we've been battling," he said. "People have fallen back on mortgages, evicted out of their rentals.

"We need direct assistance."

He said workers had approached Mr Hartsuyker, Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser, the Fair Work Commission and Fair Work Ombudsman to little avail.

"Why isn't the government helping the breadwinners of Australia which are the workers?" the employee said.

"Everyone's been spoken to except the people who can keep the doors open."