A former employee of a collapsed construction company claims she hasn’t received a pension in months, while a teenage administrative trainee has been left to manage construction projects amid massive turnover of personnel has emptied the company.
At the beginning of this month, news.com.au reported that residential builder Tozer Construction Group had been ordered by the courts to go into liquidation.
The company, which has built homes for residents of Canberra and Wagga Wagga in the NSW region, has left behind a trail of devastated workers, customers and staff.
The company’s appointed liquidator, Stephen Hundy of insolvency firm Worrells, believes Tozer Construction Group owes at least $660,000, but said it was too early to know for sure at this stage.
Sarah Towers was just 18 when she started working at the company straight out of school, but said that as staff began to quit en masse, it was up to her to organize construction customers’ dream homes, even though she had no experience.
“It was pretty good. Customers wanted their money back. We got called almost every day and the workers yelled at us when they were going to be paid,” Towers told news.com.au.
“I quit because of my mental health.”
In total, the company had around 80 projects in Wagga Wagga and around 180 in Canberra, Towers said, when it left early last year.
The young worker said she would often end up arranging the construction of the house herself despite having never worked in construction before.
When things went wrong, other staff would yell at her and blame her, she added.
Towers said an employee “cried almost every day” when he received angry calls from trades demanding payment.
Although the company’s cash crisis was obvious to the employees, the company continued to take on more projects.
“We just kept taking jobs we couldn’t handle,” she said.
“I remember we signed a contract for $1.3 million, they wanted their money back, we couldn’t pay them.”
Now 20, Towers stepped down in early 2021.
She told news.com.au she was hired as a contractor which was ‘lucky’ as it meant she received her full pension from a third party.
However, other employees were not so lucky.
Janet* was another Tozer Construction employee who quit in September 2021 after two years with the company.
At first, she contracted for the company, but was later hired as a full-time employee.
During the entire nine months she was on Tozer’s payroll, not a penny was deposited into her superannuation account, according to a MyGov transcript seen by news.com.au.
“I checked mine (my retirement account). I haven’t had a single payment,” she told news.com.au.
She worked in Tozer’s sales and administrative team and said she was promised a bonus if key performance indicators were met. Although everyone on her team exceeded their goals and should have received payment for every job they did, she said no commissions were ever paid during her time there.
Staff turnover was very high, according to Janet.
“When I was working, there was a turnover of 32 people, I was counting, we were noting them all,” she explained.
“There should have been at least 14 employees at a time, they had four or five left (by September 2021).”
Sometimes Janet manned the phone lines where she was abused by angry customers and employees who owed money. Overall, she estimates that between 50 and 100 suppliers were left out due to the business collapse.
“There were clients we weren’t supposed to talk to so they didn’t know where we were at with their build,” she claimed.
The phone numbers of these customers would be stored in the company phone so that staff would know to ignore it and let the call ring.
“We hated lying to customers,” she added. “I’m glad I got out of there.”
Janet said she was “surprised” that the business lasted more than a year after she left, expecting it to go bust days or weeks after she left.
After her resignation, she took on a new job in the construction industry, which happened to be a company that Tozer Construction owed money.
Liquidator Hundy told news.com.au that so far 60 creditors have contacted his office.
Of those, 15 had filed proofs of claims totaling $264,000, but he expects that number to rise.
Mr Hundy said he had found it difficult to understand the financial situation of Tozer Construction because so far he had not been able to get in touch with the director of the company.
Tozer Construction was forced into liquidation after a carpentry company called Ronbo Contracting began liquidation proceedings for an unpaid debt.
According to CreditorWatch, American Express owes lumber company Dahlsens Building Centers $66,000 owes nearly $13,000, Steel Supplies owes Tozer Construction $6,000, while Building Supply Co was granted a default judgment order for $18,000. $.
Beaumont Concreting also sued the company in May for $14,000 in unpaid labor costs. Big River Roofing also owes the same amount.
The liquidator has implored creditors to contact his office so they can file proof of claim.
News.com.au attempted to contact the director of the company.
Victoria* is a Canberra landlord who claims she lost $46,000 out of pocket following the collapse of Tozer Construction.
The single mom put down a $6,600 down payment for renovations to her existing home in December 2020, which also meant she signed up for the federal government’s $16,500 HomeBuilder grant on time.
However, for the next two years, no construction work started despite her ringing and visiting the office to harass the company about the project.
“I had a fake spat in July, said I needed a start date,” the mother-of-two told news.com.au.
“I sent letters of formal notice, they were returned to me.”
Victoria even went to the Tozer Construction office in Canberra and said staff had tried to fire her, but she said she ‘had all day’ and would stay until a worker can give him a direct answer.
She said the company offered to end the contract with them, but that would mean waiving her deposit. She chose to stay.
Two years later, amid inflation and supply chain issues, she expects the same renovation to cost her another $23,000.
That, added to her lost deposit of $6,600 as well as the fact that she missed the window for the $16,500 government construction grant, means she will have incurred losses totaling $46,000.
She has since learned that she was not covered by insurance, which means her payment of $6,600 depends on the liquidator’s ability to repay creditors.
Anita Kemp is another affected Wagga Wagga customer who previously spoke to news.com.au and lost her $9,200 deposit for a renovation job not covered by insurance.
*Names withheld for confidentiality reasons