Former pork boss fails in bid to recoup $100k from WA Pork Producers Association

Adam Poulsen & Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
COUNTRYMAN. Four-week-old weens at WA Pork Producers Association vice-president Steven Martin's Wannamal piggery. PHOTO: DANELLA BEVIS
Camera IconCOUNTRYMAN. Four-week-old weens at WA Pork Producers Association vice-president Steven Martin's Wannamal piggery. PHOTO: DANELLA BEVIS Credit: Danella Bevis

Former WA Pork Producers Association boss Russell Cox has lost his legal battle to recoup more than $100,000 in what he claimed were “unpaid wages” the group owed him.

Mr Cox — who was WAPPA’s chief executive for almost a decade before being sacked in 2014 for stealing from the organisation — launched legal action in November, claiming to be owed $112,488.75 for alleged “unpaid wages for work performed”.

But a District Court registrar ruled in favour of WA’s peak pork body earlier this month before the matter could proceed to trial.

Mr Cox was ordered to pay up to $40,000 in costs, although WAPPA will only claim about $21,000, according to president Graeme Dent.

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Lawyers for Mr Cox, 73, had argued that after his employment was terminated he sought remuneration for further entitlements during several discussions with then WAPPA president Richard Evison.

The entitlements were for overtime work allegedly performed outside his employment contract between 2008 and 2013.

“I understood from my discussions with Evison that the matter of any workplace claims would be resolved in due course by (WAPPA) and that such claims should be delayed,” Mr Cox said in a sworn affidavit.

But Mr Evison responded in his affidavit that there were no talks in which he was told unpaid monies were owed, or whereby WAPPA offered to investigate any further entitlements.

Lawyers for WAPPA also argued Mr Cox was not entitled to payment of any entitlements beyond that prescribed in his employment contract, and that the time to make any claim for breach of the contract had lapsed.

Registrar Kathryn Hogan ruled there was no evidence Mr Cox ever received written acknowledgement of any debt owed by WAPPA.

“(Mr Cox) in his affidavit does not depose to having received anything in writing and refers only to conversations, the contents of which are in dispute,” she said.

“He did not point to the existence of any document he had received upon which he had relied to explain the delay in seeking payment of the monies to which he claimed to be entitled.”

Ms Hogan said while WAPPA’s application for summary judgment had succeeded, the affidavit evidence made it clear there was a fundamental dispute of fact that could only be determined by hearing the evidence of the witnesses, which must be done by a judge.

She added that had the application by WAPPA not been decided on the basis of the Limitations Act, the application would not have fulfilled the criteria required to have been successful in a summary judgment application.

Mr Cox was granted 10 days to appeal the summary judgment, which lapsed last Thursday.

WAPPA lawyer David Markovich said the court’s ruling was a “great outcome”.

“We’re delighted that we were able to bring the proceedings to an early conclusion and avoid the significant costs that would have arisen had the proceedings gone to a full trial,” Mr Markovich said.

Mr Dent said the industry was relieved the issue had finally been put to bed after seven years.

“It means we can now focus on the betterment of the industry rather than spending countless hours trying to defend ourselves,” Mr Dent said.

Mr Cox could not be contacted for comment.

Mr Cox was convicted in Perth Magistrate’s Court in August last year of stealing $9987 as a servant of WAPPA in May 2014.

He pleaded guilty and received a suspended eight month jail sentence and was ordered to repay the money.

The court was told Mr Cox transferred $9987 from WAPPA’s account to his own personal bank account after sending a faxed request using the electronic signature of Mr Evison.

Before his legacy was tarnished, Mr Cox was credited with having helped to grow the State’s pork industry by pioneering agreements that allowed WA farms and processers to access overseas worker.

He was also once a high profile WA football identity, having served as the inaugural football manager at West Coast Eagles, general manager of WAFL club Claremont from 1992-96 and chief executive at Swan Districts in 1997.

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