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The Federal Circuit Court has ordered a media company and its director to pay $570,000 for breaching workplace laws.

The Federal Circuit Court ordered Touchpoint Media Pty Ltd to pay $220,320 and company director Laurence Bernard Ward to pay a further $44,604 for underpaying young journalists and production staff.

The Federal Circuit Court also ordered the company to back-pay 23 staff a total $305,780 for underpayments that occurred between January 2015 and June 2016.

Four workers were underpaid more than $30,000 each, with the largest underpayment of wages and entitlements being $48,217. Some journalists were in their early 20s and recruited straight out of university, and were based at a central location in Brisbane or moved to regional areas to take up employment.

Judge Tony Young found that “some of these employees were vulnerable and eager to obtain a job so as to enter the industry or the profession of journalism”.

“There is some evidence that Touchpoint especially sought out such employees,” Judge Young said.

“I am satisfied that there was an element of exploitation involved with young employees that would have been less likely to occur with older or more experienced employees.

“As such, I am satisfied that the experience of employment by Touchpoint, and the consequent serious underpayment of many employees, was a bitter and humiliating experience.”

Touchpoint Media and Mr Ward also breached workplace laws during the investigation by knowingly providing false PAYG records to Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors that significantly over-stated the amounts employees had been paid.

Judge Young said the breach was serious and was “an aggravating factor and suggests a lack of contrition”.

Judge Young found that the breaches were deliberate and, in setting the penalty, said “the overriding factor is the need to ensure compliance with workplace laws, particularly those in issue here designed to protect employees.”

In addition to the penalties and back-pay order, Judge Young ordered the company to commission an external audit of its compliance and report the results to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

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