A former employee of a failed construction firm says she has not received her supplementary pension for months, while a teenage administrative trainee has been left to manage construction projects as huge staff turnover guts the firm.
Earlier this month, news.com.au reported that residential developer Tozer Construction Group had been ordered by the court to go into liquidation.
The firm, which has 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 bankruptcy firm Worrells, estimates Tozer Construction Group owes at least $660,000, but said it was too early to be sure at this stage.
Sarah Towers was just 18 when she started at the company straight out of school, but she said when staff started leaving in droves, it was left to her to organize construction for clients’ dream homes, even though he had no experience.
“It was pretty bad. The customers wanted their refunds. We were called virtually every day and yelled at by workers asking when they would be paid,” Towers told news.com.au.
“I quit because of my mental health.”
In all, the company had around 80 projects in Wagga Wagga and around 180 in Canberra, according to Towers, when he departed early last year.
The young worker said she often ended up organizing the construction of the house herself despite having never worked in construction before.
When things went wrong, other staff members yelled at her and blamed her, she added.
Towers said one employee “cried practically every day” as she received angry calls from merchants demanding payment.
While the company’s cash crunch was obvious to employees, the firm continued to take on more projects.
“We kept picking up jobs we couldn’t handle,” she said.
“I remember we signed a $1.3 million job, they wanted their money back, we couldn’t pay them.”
Now 20, Towers stepped down in early 2021.
She told news.com.au that she was hired as a contractor, which was “lucky” as it meant she received all of her pension from a third party.
However, other employees weren’t so lucky.
Janet* was another Tozer Construction employee who quit in September 2021 after two years with the company.
At first, she took on a contract for the company, but was then hired as a full-time employee.
In the nine months she’s been on Tozer’s payroll, not a single penny has been deposited into her retirement account, according to a MyGov transcript seen by news.com.au.
“I checked my (my retirement account). I haven’t had a 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. While everyone on her team exceeded their goals and should have been compensated for every job they did, she said no commission was ever received during her time there.
The staff turnover rate was very high, according to Janet.
“When I worked there was a turnover of 32 people, I kept count, we wrote them all down,” he explained.
“There had to be at least 14 employees at a time, there are four or five left (by September 2021).”
At times Janet manned the phone lines where she was abused by angry customers and the workers owed money. Overall, she estimates that between 50 and 100 suppliers were left without money as a result of the company’s collapse.
“There were customers we shouldn’t have talked to so they didn’t know where we were with their build,” he said.
The phone numbers of these customers would be saved in the company phone so staff would know to ignore it and ring the call.
“We hated lying to customers,” she added. “I’m glad I got out of there.”
Janet said she was “surprised” that the firm lasted more than a year after she quit, expecting it to fail within days or weeks of her departure.
After her resignation, she moved into a new role in the construction business, which was a company that Tozer Construction owed money.
Liquidator Hundy told news.com.au that 60 creditors have so far contacted his office.
Of those, 15 had submitted proof of claims totaling $264,000, but that number is expected to rise.
Mr. Hundy said he has struggled to understand Tozer Construction’s financial situation because he has so far been unable to get in touch with the company’s director.
Tozer Construction was forced to go into liquidation after a woodworking company called Ronbo Contracting entered liquidation proceedings over an unpaid debt.
According to CreditorWatch, American Express owes lumber company Dahlsens Building Centers $66,000, nearly $13,000, Steel Supplies owes Tozer Construction $6,000, while Building Supply Co was awarded an $18,000 default judgment order.
Beaumont Concreteting also took the company to court in May over $14,000 in unpaid labor costs. Big River Roofing is also due for the same amount.
The liquidator has implored creditors to contact his office so they can file proof of credit.
News.com.au attempted to contact the director of the company.
Victoria* is a Canberra homeowner who says she lost $46,000 in the collapse of Tozer Construction.
The single mom paid a $6,600 deposit for renovations to her existing home in December 2020, which also meant she applied in time for the federal government’s $16,500 HomeBuilder grant.
However, over the next two years, no construction work started despite her phoning and going to the office to pester the company about the project.
“I had a dummy spit in July, I said I needed a start date,” the mum of two told news.com.au.
“I have sent letters of request, they have been 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 gave her a straight answer.
She said the company has offered her to terminate the contract with them, but that would mean giving up her deposit. She chose to stay.
Two years later, between inflation and supply chain issues, she expects the exact same renovation to cost her an extra $23,000.
This, coupled with the loss of the $6,600 deposit and the missing window for the $16,500 government grant, means he will have incurred losses totaling $46,000.
She has since learned that she is not covered by insurance, meaning her $6,600 payment depends on the liquidator’s ability to repay creditors.
Anita Kemp is another Wagga Wagga stricken customer who previously spoke to news.com.au and lost her $9,200 deposit for an uninsured renovation job.
*Names withheld for privacy concerns