John Poynton the latest Crown director to resign, wage theft under the microscope

John Poynton the latest Crown director to resign, wage theft under the microscope

The exodus of Crown Resorts' (ASX: CWN) board continues today with director John Poynton handing in his resignation with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, the resort and casino operator is being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman over underpayments of staff. 

His departure comes in the wake of the scathing Bergin Report which found Crown was "unsuitable" to run a casino in New South Wales.

Since then, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) found Poynton was not considered to be independent due to his relationship with James Packer and Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH).

"John has been a member of the board of Crown since November 2018 and a director of Crown Perth since 2004. During that time, he has been enormously committed as a director, chairman of Crown Perth and through his service on board committees," CWN executive chairman Helen Coonan said.

"The ILGA has advised Crown that it considers it appropriate that John step down as a director of all companies within the Crown group, due to a perceived lack of independence arising out of his past relationship with Mr James Packer and CPH, notwithstanding the recent termination of John's consultancy arrangement with CPH."

Poynton, the former chairman of Crown Perth, was singled out by the Bergin Report for his knowledge of the Melco transaction under which the son of casino tycoon Stanley Ho would acquire shares in the resort operator.

According to the report, Poynton was the only non-CPH appointed director who knew about the transaction between Lawrence Ho's Melco and Packer's CPH prior to completion on 30 May 2019. However, he did not understand the deal's details nor its connection to the late Stanley Ho, whose related entities are forbidden from such investments due to his Triad connections.

"Mr Poynton agreed that he had not ever researched for himself the relationship between the late Mr Stanley Ho and his son, Lawrence Ho, but rather he had received information anecdotally, and in briefings he had received over time," the Bergin Report said.

"He said that he understood the concerns and the sensitivities about the late Mr Stanley Ho. He had an understanding from what he had read over time that Mr Lawrence Ho was "at pains to point out" that he did not have fiduciary links and beneficial ownership links with his father.

"Mr Poynton's evidence in relation to his position after receiving the call from Mr Packer is understandable and should not be the subject of any criticism. It is indicative of the way things were operating at the time."

Poynton is the latest Packer-affiliated director to step down, following the resignations of two directors linked to the Packer family's CPH.

On 10 February Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston resigned before the ILGA found Crown "unsuitable" to hold a casino licence in New South Wales.

Since those two resignations, Coonan was promoted to the role of executive chairman to oversee the company's transformation and was given a major pay rise as part of the new job.

However, a number of other board members and executives have since resigned, including former AFL CEO and CWN director Andrew Demetriou, Crown CEO Ken Barton, and businessman Harold Mitchell.

Poynton's resignation means just four board members remain at Crown, including Helen Coonan, deputy chairman John Horvath, and directors Sarah Halton and Antonia Korsanos.

Crown is also facing down a Royal Commission in Victoria where Raymond Finkelstein QC will investigate whether the company is suitable to hold a casino licence, with an expected release of recommendations by 1 August this year.

Crown self-reports staff underpayments

According to Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Crown Resorts has self-reproted underpayments of staff.

While the specifics of the underpayments have not been released, the FWO is investigating the reports made to the body by Crown itself.

"We expect any employers that identify non-compliance to report to the FWO and fully cooperate with our investigation to ensure that employees are quickly repaid any outstanding entitlements," a FWO spokesperson said.

"Any workers with concerns about their pay should contact us directly for assistance."

According to United Workers Union director for casinos Dario Mujkic, the underpayments primarialy affect non-union workers.

"Any underpayments, no matter how minor or widespread, are concerning to the Union," says Mujkic. 

"Initial discussions with Crown indicate that these underpayments primarily affect the parts of their workforce that are not covered by union collective agreements.

"If any of our members are impacted by this we will expect any monies owed repaid in full and quickly."

It comes after British chef Heston Blumenthal was embroiled in an underpayments scandal at his Melbourne-based Crown Casino restaurant Dinner by Heston.

The restaurant fell into liquidation and closed in early-2020, owing $4 million to employees.

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