Staff reveal nightmare working for collapsed building firm owing at least $660K

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A former employee at a collapsed construction firm claims she hasn’t been paid superannuation for months, while a teenage administration trainee was left to manage building projects as massive staff turnover gutted the company.

At the beginning of this month, news.com.au reported that residential builder Tozer Construction Group had been court-ordered to go into liquidation.

The company, which built homes for residents in Canberra and Wagga Wagga in regional NSW, has left behind a trail of devastated workers, customers and employees.

The firm’s appointed liquidator, Stephen Hundy of insolvency firm Worrells, estimates that Tozer Construction Group owes at least $660,000 but said it is too early to be sure at this stage.

Sarah Towers was just 18 when she started work at the company straight out of school but said that as staff started quitting in droves, it was left to her to organize the builds for customers’ dream homes, even though she had no experience.

Sarah Towers when she was starting in her role as a project administrator at just 18.
Sarah Towers when she was starting in her role as a project administrator at just 18.

“It was pretty bad. Customers wanted their refunds. We got called pretty much every day and got screamed at by workers asking when they were going to get paid,” Towers told news.com.au.

“I quit due to my mental health.”

In all, the company had about 80 projects in Wagga Wagga and about 180 in Canberra, according to Towers, by the time she left early last year.

The young worker claimed she would often end up organizing the home builds herself despite never having worked in construction before.

When things went wrong, other staff would shout at her and blame her, she added.

Towers said one employee “would cry pretty much every day” as they received angry calls from trades demanding payment.

Despite the company’s cash crunch being obvious to employees, the firm continued to take on more projects.

“We just kept picking up jobs we couldn’t handle,” she claimed.

“I remember we signed on a $1.3 million job, they wanted their money back, we couldn’t pay them.”

Now 20, Towers quit at the beginning of 2021.

She told news.com.au she was hired as a contractor, which was “lucky” as it meant she received all her superannuation from a third party.

However, other employees weren’t so lucky.

Towers couldn’t cope and eventually quit the firm after around seven months there.
Towers couldn’t cope and eventually quit the firm after around seven months there.
Sarah Towers/Facebook

Janet* was another employee at Tozer Construction who quit in September 2021 after two years with the company.

At first, she contracted for the firm but then was brought on as a full-time employee.

For the entire nine months she was on Tozer’s payroll, not a single cent was deposited into her superannuation account, according to a MyGov transcript seen by news.com.au.

“I checked mine (my superannuation account). I haven’t had one single payment,” she told news.com.au.

She worked in Tozer’s sales and administration team and said she was promised a bonus if key performance indicators were met. Although everyone in her team surpassed their targets, and should have received a payout for each job they worked through, she said no commission ever eventuated during her time there.

The staff turnover rate was very high, according to Janet.

“When I was working there was a turnover of 32 people, I kept count, we wrote them all down,” she explained.

“There should have been at least 14 employees at any one time, they were left with four or five (by September 2021).”

Sometimes Janet would man the phone lines where she would be abused by angry customers and workers owed money. Overall, she estimates between 50 and 100 suppliers have been left out of pocket from the company’s collapse.

Sarah Towers’ letter of resignation.
Sarah Towers’ letter of resignation.

“There were customers we weren’t supposed to talk to so that they wouldn’t know where we were up to with their build,” she claimed.

These customers’ phone numbers would be saved into the company’s phone so staff would know to ignore it and let the call ring out.

“We hated lying to the customers,” she added. “I’m glad I got out of there.”

Janet said she was “surprised” the company had lasted for over a year after she quit, expecting it to go under within days or weeks of her departure.

After her resignation, she moved to a new role in the construction industry, which happened to be a company Tozer Construction owed money.

Liquidator Hundy told news.com.au so far 60 creditors had contacted his office.

Of those, 15 had lodged proof of debt claims totalling $264,000 but he expects that number to climb higher.

Mr Hundy said he had been struggling to get across Tozer Construction’s financial situation because so far he has been unable to get in touch with the company’s director.

Tozer Construction was forced to go into liquidation after a joinery business called Ronbo Contracting started winding up proceedings over an unpaid debt.

According to CreditorWatch, American Express is owed $66,000 timber company Dahlsens Building Centres is owed almost $13,000, Steel Supplies is owed $6,000 by Tozer Construction, while Building Supply Co has obtained a $18,000 default judgment order.

Beaumont Concreting also took the company to court in May over $14,000 of labor costs that went unpaid. Big River Roofing is also owed the same amount.

The liquidator has implored creditors to contact his office so that they can lodge a proof of debt claim.

News.com.au has attempted to contact the company’s director.

Victoria* is a Canberra homeowner who claims she was left $46,000 out of pocket by Tozer Construction’s collapse.

The single mum paid a $6,600 deposit for renovation work on her existing home in December 2020, which also meant she had signed up in time for the federal government’s $16,500 HomeBuilder grant.

However, in the following two years, no construction work commenced despite her ringing and visiting the office to hassle the company about the project.

“I had a dummy spit in July, I said I needed a start date,” the mom-of-two told news.com.au.

“I sent letters of demand, they were returned.”

Victoria even visited Tozer Construction’s Canberra office and said staff tried to turn her away, but she said she “had all day” and would stay until a worker could give her a straight answer.

She said the company offered for her to end the contract with them, but this would mean giving up her deposit. She opted to stay.

Two years later, amid inflation and supply chain issues, she expects the exact same renovation will cost her an extra $23,000.

That, coupled with her lost $6,600 deposit as well as her missing the window for the $16,500 government building grant, means she will have suffered losses totaling $46,000.

She has since learned she is not covered by insurance, which means her $6,600 payment is dependent on the liquidator being able to pay back creditors.

Anita Kemp is another impacted customer from Wagga Wagga who previously spoke to news.com.au and has lost her $9,200 deposit for a renovation job that was not covered by insurance.

*Names withheld over privacy concerns

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