A former employee of a failed construction company claims she hasn’t had a pension in months, while a teenage administrative intern has been left to oversee construction projects as massive staff turnover devastated the company.
Earlier this month, news.com.au reported that homebuilder Tozer Construction Group had been ordered by a court to go into liquidation.
The company, which has built homes for residents in Canberra and Wagga Wagga in regional NSW, has left a trail of shattered traditions, customers and employees.
The firm’s appointed liquidator, Stephen Hundy of bankruptcy firm Worrells, estimates that Tozer Construction Group owes at least $1 million in debt, but said it was too early to be sure at this point.
Sarah Towers was only 18 when she joined the company straight out of school, but says that when employees began leaving in droves, she was left to organize the construction of clients’ dream homes, although she had no experience .
“It was pretty bad. Customers wanted their refund. We got phone calls and yelled at (from traders) almost every day asking when they would be paid,” Ms Towers told news.com.au.
“I quit because of my mental health.”
In all, the company had about 80 projects in Wagga Wagga and about 180 in Canberra at the start of her departure early last year, according to Ms. Towers.
The young worker claimed that she often organized house construction herself, although she had never worked in construction before.
If something went wrong, other employees would yell at her and blame her, she added.
Ms Towers said an employee would “cry pretty much every day” when receiving angry calls from traders demanding payment.
Although the company’s liquidity crisis was obvious to employees, the company continued to take on more projects.
“We just kept taking jobs that we couldn’t handle,” she claimed.
“I remember we signed a $2 million job, they wanted their money back, we couldn’t pay them.”
Ms. Towers, now 20, quit in early 2021.
She told news.com.au she was hired as a contractor, which meant ‘lucky’ as she received her entire pension from a third party.
However, other employees were not so lucky.
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Janet* was another Tozer Construction employee who left in September 2021 after two years with the company.
She was initially under contract with the company, but was then hired as a full-time employee.
During the entire nine months that she was on Tozer’s payroll, not a single hundred was paid into her pension account, according to a MyGov transcript viewed by news.com.au.
“I checked mine (my retirement account). I haven’t had a single payment,” she told news.com.au.
She worked on Tozer’s sales and administration 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 been paid for every job they worked, she said that during her time there, no commission was ever received.
According to Janet, the staff turnover rate was very high.
“When I was working there was a turnover of 32 people, I counted, we wrote them all down,” she explained.
“There should have been at least 14 employees at any point in time, they were left with four or five (by September 2021).”
At times, Janet would occupy the phone lines, where she would be verbally abused by disgruntled customers and bartered with money owed. Overall, she estimates that between 50 and 100 suppliers were left out of pocket as a result of the company’s collapse.
“There were clients we weren’t supposed to talk to so they wouldn’t know what we were planning to do with their build,” she claimed.
The phone numbers of those customers would be stored on the company’s phone so employees could ignore them and let the call ring.
“We hated lying to the customers,” she added. “I’m glad I got out of there.”
Janet said she was “surprised” that the company had existed for over a year after she quit and expected it to go under within days or weeks of her departure.
After resigning, she moved to a new position in the construction industry, which happened to be a company that Tozer Construction owed money to.
Liquidator Mr Hundy told news.com.au that 60 creditors have so far contacted his office.
Of those, 15 had proven debt claims totaling $400,000, but he expects that number to continue to rise.
Mr. Hundy said he has had trouble finding out about Tozer Construction’s financial situation as he has not yet been able to get in touch with the company’s director.
Tozer Construction was forced into liquidation after a carpentry company called Ronbo Contracting began winding up an unpaid debt suit.
According to CreditorWatch, American Express owes $100,000, lumber company Dahlsens Building Centers nearly $20,000, Steel Supplies owes $9,200 from Tozer Construction, while Building Supply Co has obtained a $27,000 default judgment.
Beaumont Concreting also sued the company in May for $21,000 in unpaid labor costs. Big River Roofing is also owed the same amount.
The insolvency administrator has asked the creditors to contact his law firm so that they can submit a proof of claim.
News.com.au attempted to contact the company’s director.
Victoria* is a Canberra homeowner who claims she lost $70,000 from the collapse of Tozer Construction.
The single mom paid a $10,000 down payment for renovations to her existing home in December 2020, which also meant she was timely enrolled in the federal government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder grant.
However, no construction work began for the following two years, although she called and visited the office to harass the company about the project.
“I had a dummy spat in July, I said I need a start date,” the mum-of-two told news.com.au.
“I sent letters of demand, they were sent back.”
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 to end her contract with them, but doing so would mean giving up her deposit. She chose to stay.
Two years later, amid inflation and supply chain issues, she expects the same renovation will cost her an additional $35,000.
Combined with her lost $10,000 bail and missing the $25,000 government housing grant window, that means she will have suffered a total of $70,000 in losses.
She has since learned that she does not have insurance, meaning her $10,000 payment depends on the trustee’s ability to repay creditors.
Anita Kemp is another affected Wagga Wagga customer, who previously spoke to news.com.au and lost her $14,000 deposit on a renovation that wasn’t covered by insurance.
*Names with withheld privacy concerns
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