Gujarat NRE could have paid its workers money they were owed at any time, once it had given the Australian Tax Office assurances the funds would be spent on wages, the ATO has confirmed.
With miners from the Russell Vale and Wongawilli operations not paid for several weeks, Gujarat NRE had blamed the ATO, saying a garnishee order over its bank accounts prevented any money going out other than to pay debts to the ATO.
Local Labor politicians had followed suit, telling the federal government to intervene with the ATO.
The miners’ union, the CFMEU, had also been asked to lobby the ATO to try to get the garnishee order lifted.
But it has now become clear that there were ways to make sure the workers were paid.
The ATO will not normally comment on individual cases but this time has been motivated to set the record straight.
Late yesterday, a statement from the ATO said ‘‘assurances’’ that the funds were meant for wages would have allowed miners to be paid – if the company had done so.
‘‘In the case of Gujarat NRE the ATO has never prevented the payment of wages,’’ an ATO spokeswoman said.
‘‘We take great care to work with any business with a tax debt.
‘‘In most cases a garnishee is placed on an account where earlier attempts to resolve the debt with the taxpayer have failed.
‘‘We would never knowingly prevent wages being paid even if there is a garnishee on an account. We rely on the business to work openly with us providing assurances that the funds are to be directed to employees for wages.’’
CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs said his union had lobbied the ATO to lift the garnishee order – at the request of Gujarat NRE.
Mr Timbs said he had been in contact with the ATO on Thursday and he was satisfied with its position.
Gujarat was unable to comment by Thursday night’s Mercury deadline.