Bully boss made young man's life hell

BALLINA apprentice Byron Nolan yesterday came face-to-face with the employer who for three months made his life a living hell.

Dressed in a suit and tie, Mr Nolan, 18, fronted up at a Vocational Training Tribunal hearing at Ballina TAFE to detail the abuse he claims he suffered while working for John Ryan at Northern Rivers Original Kitchens.

Before being called as a witness at the hearing, which was closed to the media, Mr Nolan told The Northern Star how Mr Ryan had tried to control his life. He said Mr Ryan demanded he not allow his girlfriend to stay at his house during the week because it would make him too tired for work. Mr Ryan also refused to let him cut up tomatoes to put on his sandwiches, insisting he bring the sandwiches pre-made, the teenager said.

He said his employer constantly threatened him with the sack for even the smallest mistakes; he was told to get a haircut three times in four weeks while working for Mr Ryan, even though he got his hair cut twice in that space of time to obey his boss.

He said Mr Ryan told him he wasn't 'really black', and if he was he should come to work with some kangaroo meat for his lunch.

Mr Nolan said he had felt 'trapped' in the job because he was worried his employer's influence in Ballina would prevent him from getting another job.

“He was really nice to his friends, which makes you think you are being harsh or may have misjudged him, but then you think of everything he has done and you think, no, he deserves everything he gets,” he said.

Supported by his mother and representatives of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Mr Nolan was planning to present to the hearing a diary in which he had recorded the daily demands of his employer. The union is also looking into other alleged breaches by the company.

Union state organiser Mick Lawler said the case included allegations that Mr Ryan had underpaid Mr Nolan about $8000 over the course of 17.5 weeks.

Mr Lawler said not only was Mr Nolan being paid less than the award apprenticeship wage, but he was actually carrying out the work of a labourer and should have been paid a labourer's wage.

Mr Nolan said in order to get a job he was offering to work a trial week for free. He said he worked the seven days for Mr Ryan without pay, and then was not paid for a further eight days' work.

He said Mr Ryan sacked him two days before his three-month probationary period expired on the grounds that 'it was not working out' and that he had not bought the tools he had requested he buy.

Mr Nolan said he had actually spent close to $900 on two drills plus $1394.82 on safety equipment, even though he had never seen a cent of the $800 government allowance for apprentices' tools and safety gear, which was the responsibility of the employer.

Mr Ryan did not wish to comment publicly on the matter yesterday, but he was questioned by the tribunal for almost two hours.

At the end of yesterday's hearing, his company was found in breach of their obligations, normal harassment laws and not paying employees correctly.

“It is everything we wanted, however, we are still very concerned about others at the workplace and we are taking up claims on their behalf,” Mr Lawler said.

“Mr Ryan has been given 21 days to respond to the decision. If he fails to do so, he will not be able to employ trainees or apprentices.”

Mr Nolan's mother, Narelle Nolan, said she had found it hard sending her boy off to work every day. .

“Hopefully some employer may see what he is doing as enterprising and give him a job,” she said.

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