Josie Taylor, 12 September 2015

National service station chain United Petroleum has admitted it sacked a general manager after he made a racist comment at a meeting in 2012.

A former United regional manager told the ABC she witnessed the man say at an operations meeting: “These Indians don’t deserve a job cleaning f***ing toilets anywhere in the world, we have given them millions [of] dollars worth of business which they don’t deserve at all.”

The former manager claims the man was referring to the predominantly Indian franchisees and commission agents that operate United petrol stations.

United’s chief operating officer David Szymczak confirmed in an email to the ABC that this took place.

“The general manager to which you refer was terminated for gross misconduct for that reason,” he said.

“About 20 per cent of our head office staff are from an Indian background and the balance is very multicultural.

“Any sort of racist slur is something we find unacceptable and hurtful.”

The female United manager who heard the remark told the ABC that working for the company “was hell for me”.

The former Victorian manager is of Indian descent and estimates that applies to about 80 per cent of staff at the chain’s 350 sites.

She is one of two former managers for United Petroleum to allege they personally told the company that workers at the service station chain were being underpaid.

She said she personally had staff at various sites tell her they were being paid as little as $10 an hour, or had not been paid at all.

“They [commission agents or franchisees] pay them between $10 and $15 an hour and some operators will take off any money owed for ‘drive-offs’ from the employees’ wages,” she said.

She alleges she told the company about the underpayment but was told it was not their problem.

“They said it’s not my business … because all the accountability for remuneration of employees stays with the franchisees or commission agents,” she said.

Another United manager speaks up

The ABC has spoken to a second United manager in a separate state.

He makes similar claims of telling the company about staff at various sites being underpaid.

He claims the company failed to act.

United denied the allegations and referred the ABC to its press release made public last week.

“United in no way condones or is involved in the underpayment of wages, and takes the view that it is not an option when seeking to improve the profitability of any business,” the statement said.

Mr Szymczak later wrote in an email to the ABC: “Please be aware that the area managers are quite junior in the organisation and are only involved with site standards and company policy compliance.

“If a commission agent is not making money they are able to resign at any time.

“As they have no investment they do not lose any money in the process.

“There is absolutely no valid reason for commission agents to short-pay workers.”

Last week the ABC revealed United Petroleum franchisees were underpaying staff, saying the business model did not allow them to pay the award wage.

The ABC also revealed the legal battle of three former United franchisees who claim they were unfairly kicked out of their businesses, losing up to $500,000 of investment.

The female former United manager claims she was asked by a senior manager if she was willing to evict site operators without proper grounds.

“He asked me, can you breach a CA [commission agent] agreement or a franchise agreement and throw him, kick him out of the business?” she said.

“I said that’s against the law we can’t do that unless they’re in breach.

“He said sometimes for the monetary benefit for the company we need to go above the law and breach the agreement and throw them out.”

United categorically denied this claim.

Extracted in full from ABC.