Australia’s largest gay and lesbian publisher is on the brink of insolvency and battling allegations of unfair dismissal and the serial underpayment of superannuation to its staff.
Crikey can reveal the Australian Tax Office has issued an application to wind up Evolution Publishing — which produces glossy magazines SX in Sydney, MCV (Melbourne), Queensland Pride (Brisbane) and Blaze (Adelaide) — following a series of complaints about unpaid superannuation from former employees. Crikey has spoken to four former staffers who complained to the ATO after discovering they had not been paid superannuation — in some cases for over a year.
Freelance contributors also allege they were routinely paid months late and are owed significant amounts in back pay.
Representatives from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have written to Evolution Publishing this morning demanding the company pay superannuation to its staff. The MEAA is also preparing to launch an unfair dismissal case in Fair Work Australia on behalf of Serkan Ozturk, SX‘s former news editor.
Ozturk was sacked on Monday after raising concerns about unpaid super and the company’s financial state during a staff meeting on Friday. He was not given any reason in writing for his removal. The decision meant SX missed out a story Ozturk had prepared on allegations of police brutality at the Sydney Mardi Gras. Since being published on rival site SameSame, the story has sparked outrage in the gay community and been followed up by all major media outlets.
“I believe I was fired because I spoke up about what was going wrong in the organisation,” said Ozturk. “They’ve been taking the GLBTQI community on a ride for years.”
Paul Murphy, the head of the MEAA’s media division, said: “The matters that have come to our attention are extremely concerning … We don’t want to see a situation where a company is wound up with staff not paid.”
Mark Anthony, Evolution’s company director, has not responded to a series of detailed questions sent by Crikey yesterday.
The ATO’s application for Evolution Publishing to be wound up will be heard by the Federal Court on March 20. In February, Evolution’s general manager Dean Bell registered a new company under the name of Evo Media. Bell has not responded to Crikey‘s requests for comment.
Former SX news editor Brendan Bolger, who took a complaint about unpaid super to the ATO last year, says he feels “completely betrayed” by his former employer and fears he will never be able to recover his unpaid super.
“It has been an incredibly frustrating and extremely unfair ordeal,” he said.
Another former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Crikey: “I’ve never come across an operator like Evolution Publishing … They’ve treated people appallingly. It’s no great surprise everything is falling apart around them.”
As well as an assortment of magazines — which are chock-full of display and classified advertising aimed at gay and lesbian consumers — Evolution’s portfolio includes the Gay News Network website.
UPDATE: Following the publication of this story, Crikey received a written statement from Evolution Publishing company director Mark Anthony. He writes:
“Evolution Publishing acknowledges that there are outstanding superannuation contributions and has notified the Australian Taxation Office accordingly. Evolution Publishing has reconciled these entitlements and is now undertaking to settle all outstanding superannuation contributions to former and current employees. Evolution Publishing is now putting systems in place to ensure it fulfils its future superannuation payments on a timely basis.”
Anthony says the company’s publications will continue to operate as normal regardless of the Federal Court’s decision in the March 20 insolvency hearing.