Cycling in Sydney Australia
I saw a job for a part time bicycle mechanic and a shop assistant advertised on this site last year. The shop, Commute at Cremorne was selling electric bicycles. I thought it would be a good chance to gain a bit of extra work and learn about electric bikes. I never imagined that it would become a saga of deceit and legal battles and end with the owner fleeing the country. I have gone into quite a lot of detail here as it is a long story, but I also tried to offer some practical advice.
The owner, Jamie Dudderidge was from England and seemed like more of marketing than a cycling person. He talked big about getting more money from his backers (who I think never existed) to start a second shop in Manly, with the possibility of more work for me in the Cremorne shop. The electric bikes were all quality brands with prices from around $1700 to $3000, plus a few cheaper urban bikes. The actual job seemed a little strange from day one. The shop was on Military Road, so lots of people were passing. I was working Saturday’s but would be lucky to get more than one or two people to enter the shop in the entire day. It felt strange to be at work but be so alone. I noticed several unpaid bills in the in tray, a portent of things to come.
After working there for 4 days I was told not to come back. Various reasons were given for this, a lack of sales, delaying the receipt of a cheque by one day, obscure claims that I had somehow damaged the computer ‘system’, even though this was just a single desktop that I had barely used. It didn’t really worry me too much. I could see there was not enough money coming in to pay the rent, let alone any wages. We agreed that I should send in an invoice for $800 and I would get paid by the end of the month. This period went by and no money arrived. I sent several reminder emails, I hand delivered invoices to his shop, but heard nothing. To try and get some response, I stuck a 60 day reminder notice to the front door of the shop. This did generate more excuses about why he can’t pay, or that he was only going to pay half the wages, each excuse often contradicting previous ones.
The Legal battle
I got feed up by this stage and decided to take legal action. Initially I thought this would be pointless, as legal costs would exceed any money I might collect. But I looked into how the small claims division of the local court operates and it seemed quite good. You only had to spend $86 to make a Statement of Claim, so I went ahead and did this. It was interesting to find out that you only need to sign an affidavit to make your claim. It didn’t matter that there was no employment contract created for the job. Another 5 weeks pass with no response, it is now October. Then Jamie replies, saying that the Statement of Claim has been sent to an old address (claims must be lodged by mail at the registered office of the business). I point out that I am using the registered address he has recorded worth ASIC. The owner now updates his details. He offers to pay half my wages, perhaps responding to the legal pressure. I suggest to him that I am entitled to all the wages, but he has the opportunity to lodge a counter claim if he wants. More weeks go by and no counter claim is lodged. This means that a default judgment is recorded against Jamie, and no actual hearing has to take place. He is recorded in the system as a default debtor, and ASIC is notified.
A new store
The shop is now relocated to Manly , almost next door to Manly Cycles. An air of unreality seems to set in to the business. The rent is $7500 per month which means you would need to be selling at least 2 to 3 bikes per week to break even. The owner starts hiring out the electric bikes to tourists, which would make it much harder to pass them off as new bikes to buyers. Some of the floor stock is over a year old by now. He expands his range even further with high end touring bikes
Call in the Sheriff
I go back to the court office to see what the next step is. One option is to get the court to issue a writ for the levy of property, which means that goods can be seized and then on sold, to recover money owing. I’m not sure if it is worth forking out more money ($50) for this, but the court officer suggests this action works in 90% of cases. So I go ahead and the notice is served by the sheriff just before Christmas. The sheriff’s office is short staffed, so they don’t return until February, when they make a schedule of goods to be seized (see attached document). They have to give a 2 week warning of the seizure date.
Liquidation and flight
I wait a week of two after the seizure date before checking back with the sheriff. They visited on the 19th of March only to find the shop... empty of all bikes! At this stage they seemed to have lost interest, and didn’t contact me about this. Worryingly, the shop’s website, twitter account, and ebay store all go dormant. I asked a few of Jamie’s dealers and one tells me that he has left for the UK. A check with ASIC (see link below) shows that he has filed for liquidation on the very same day as the seizure (too much of a coincidence). I could buy the liquidation documents but don’t want to waste any more money. Thankfully the Manly Daily publishes the details (I queried them a few times to see if they were interested in the story). They update the story in July.
The full catastrophe
It is hard to believe the scale of deception that has gone on here. I don’t understand how a small bicycle shop can owe over $120,000 to 18 creditors. Even the tax office got burnt, presumably because no GST was ever paid. My losses begin to seem small in the overall scale of things. I manage to get in touch with the liquidator. There was a rental bond placed on the Manly property, so if there is anything left over, I may get something. His report arrives in June. The shop is still unlet so the bond goes back to the land lord. The liquidator only realised $4,780 from the sale of stock, someone got an absolute bargain by snapping up the remaining electric bikes. As he charges $400 per hour for his time, all the assets are absorbed by his fees, and even he is out of pocket by $7,000. My understanding is that liquidators are appointed and have to take on this business, and the inherent risk of losing money.
Jamie was genuinely enthusiastic about selling and promoting bikes. And I appreciate that it is difficult business to succeed in, with fairly expensive electric bicycles that are still not that widely used here. But once financial problems set in, the owner set out to effectively steal goods and services from whom ever he could. Credit was easy to come by. Shop owners are keen to have their properties let and occupied, so will often offer an initial 3 month rent free period, and not check too carefully on their tenants. Dealers will supply bikes on credit and only require payment when they are sold or after one year has elapsed. People are eager to work in the bicycle industry, and their jobs often aren’t covered by awards or contracts. Jamie skilfully took advantage of all these factors.
This behaviour even extended to Jamie’s personal life. He leased a car and simply didn’t make any payments until Macquarie Lease had to pursue him through North Sydney Local Court, the same one I used. I wasn’t able to investigate further but I did see in the court notices that Jamie faced several criminal and civil matters there. Part of the reason I took time to go to the court and ASIC was to try and get all these actions recorded and stop the deceit. Unfortunately, the legal system works slowly, and by the time everything was in place, Jamie had simply left the country to start again in the UK, as if none of this had ever happened.
My final advice is
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Yes, story on the front saying GEERS is taking a pounding. Get in while you can!
Can you use GEERs though if you aren't an employee? It sounds to me like he was a contractor as he was told to put in an invoice which is something you don't do (or I never have) if you are an employee.
I have worked for a business that went bust. I don't envy the position you are in but can i just say count yourself lucky that you only worked for them for four days. I worked for my company for four years and lost all of my super as the company just 'forgot' to pay it. On top of that I nearly lost my holiday pay (thanks to Industrial Relations dept stepping (this was before Work Choices) and forcing the company to pay it to me) and I had no severance pay despite being offered that. It is heartbreaking talking to liquidators who just fob you off and say that they only look after creditors and not staff.
People are eager to work in the bicycle industry, and their jobs often aren’t covered by awards or contracts.
Every employee has the right to a workplace contract, in fact it would probably contravene the Fair Work Act if they didn't. Don't forget that we have the ten basic conditions that cover most Australian workers and an employer has the legal obligation to keep correct records (including wage slips etc) or risk fines. Don't think just because you work in a bike shop (or any industry) that you don't have work rights. You can also check with the relevant union for assistance. The union for shop workers is the SDA. After my experience I would NEVER not be a union member.
Thanks for the tips. I put in a GEERS application a few weeks ago after an ASIC officer advised me of this service. You can only claim if you did not get employed within 3 months of leaving the company (that is now in liquidation), but this was the case for me. It's not clear if I was a contractor, as there wasno paper work. The range of tasks I perfomred fitted well into the category of employee as defined by GEERS.
I also worked at one stage for a company that wasn't paying super. But they remained solvent. Eventually the tax penalty imposed on them for withheld payments was so high, it became chepaer for them to pay the outstanding super. I would advise people to check that their super contributions are coming through. Also, everyone is now free to choose a super scheme, so there is no need to be locked into a company run scheme, which is usually much less secure.
I agree that you should always try an get a contract in place. But a lot of work casual work is just take it or leave it, somwetimes even work free for a day first (though I would never do this). If you try and negotiate, the job just goes to someone else. Cash in hand is another option, but then there is the issue of GST payments.
My impression is that the e-bike/motor-assisted bike industry at the moment seems to be the purview of these fringe dwellers.
From your bloke, to the guys flogging illegal two-stroke BSO's on ebay, they all strike me as dodgy.
This probably isn't going to change until mainstream bike manufacturers (eg: Giant, Merida etc) start producing and distributing legally compliant eBikes on a decent scale through reputable bike shops.
And this probably isn't going to happen until there is a crackdown on the illegal ones.
Face it, why would Bruce the Brickie who lost his licence DUI go with a legal e-bike, when he can get a two-stroke job which is twice as fast and he doesn't need to pedal at all. All for a fraction of the price.
Jamie Dudderidge, you say?
Yeah, although I'm not sure if you spell it Jamie Dudderidge or Jaimie Duddridge or Jamee Duderidge or Jaime Dudedridge or...
Well according to his linkedin account the Jamie Dudderidge's, former owner of the bicycle shop Commute who ripped off his creditors and employees for multiple $100,000s, name is spelled Jamie Dudderidge.