A group of former employees/contractors from local conservation group, Byron Rangers, have approached The Echo saying they are concerned that the organisation is operating unethically by not paying wages or superannuation for its employees.
Although multiple attempts were made over many weeks by The Echo to contact Byron Rangers CEO, Dean Steele-Bennett, he did not respond.
The individuals say they have gone public because they want ‘local businesses who support Byron Rangers to be aware of what’s happening behind the scenes and to make educated decisions with their donations’.
Questions have been raised around the hefty donation model that Steele-Bennett has been touting to local businesses for beach and land clean-ups.
Partnerships with Byron Rangers cost up to $20,000.
Clean-ups mostly run by volunteers
Yet, according to former Byron Rangers employee, Lila Volder-Lin, the clean-ups ‘are mostly run by local volunteers at next to no cost’.
Former employees would like to know where the flood donations received by Byron Rangers earlier this year were spent. Former employee, Miranda Bruce, told The Echo, ‘Steele-Bennett told me personally he’d received well over $100,000 in donations, but I only ever knew of $3,000 handed out to families’.
‘The Byron Rangers are not a registered not-for-profit (NFP), and after contacting ASIC and NSW Fair Trading etc, I was told they didn’t hold a fundraising licence either’.
All these questions were put to Steele-Bennett by The Echo.
Byron Rangers deregistered in May
According to ASIC and Australian Business register records, Byron Rangers Pty Ltd was deregistered on May 22, 2022, and its ABN was cancelled on June 10, 2022. Despite this, byronrangers.com is still operating and appears to be seeking sponsorship and employees.
Miranda also expressed concern for the Northern Rivers community, believing small businesses may have entered into partnerships or made donations that will never actually reach their intended recipients.
Meanwhile, former employees, Simon Brown, and Joel Weaver, told The Echo they have taken Steele-Bennett to NSW Fair Trading owing to unpaid wages.
Another former employee, Lee Yates, supports Brown and Weaver’s claims of late payment.
Where is the money
‘Deano would come back to the office every Thursday and Friday and tell all of us that he just got paid a sponsorship deal by very well-known businesses in Byron, so I’m unsure on where the money has gone’.
‘I’m a local – I grew up and went to school in Mullum, and I’m very concerned that these local businesses are being taken for a ride’.
Joel Weaver told The Echo, ‘Multiple times a week, he would tell me he just signed, or a big deal was in the works with a local business that was always worth over $10,000’.
After two-and-a-half weeks into his job, Weaver said that he was approached by an ex-contractor who said multiple ex-employees and contractors hadn’t been paid for their work.
‘As I was speaking with the ex-contractor, I got a message from my then-boss (Dean) explaining that there was an issue with payments, and I wasn’t going to get paid that week.
Who is the victim?
‘Over the next week, Dean kept coming up with excuses of why the payment was taking longer than normal. He was also very unapologetic about the matter, and was making himself the victim’.
After three-and-a-half weeks, and still without pay, Weaver said he returned to Brisbane.
‘When I got back to Brisbane, I realised that on my payslip, where it says ABN, it has a delisted ACN and the business address was incorrect. This was crossing the line for me, and I sent him my resignation.
‘I’ve now gone to the Fair Work Commission’. Weaver added that he feared Steele-Bennet spent much of the sponsorship money on his personal lifestyle, and wants to know the truth.
More than $10k in unpaid wages
Former employee, Simon Brown, contacted The Echo back in June regarding his claim of ‘more than $10,000’ in unpaid wages by Steele-Bennett, wages he says he has been chasing for more than a year. Brown said he took Steele-Bennett to NSW Fair Trading, however, Steele-Bennett ‘had ignored all of Fair Work’s attempts to contact me’.
After The Echo contacted Steele-Bennett in June, ‘two amounts of $1,000 were received, with promises of future payment dates that, to date, have not been met. Payslips were never issued’.
On June 2, 2022, Steele-Bennett replied to The Echo saying Brown breached a non-disclosure contract, ‘plus he is under investigation for [alleged] fraud’ and, ‘I am happy to update you once we get a legal resolution on this matter and it can be concluded’.
Steele-Bennett said at the time, ‘We have been extremely busy for 12 weeks dealing with the flood situation and managing thousands of volunteers. Lots of emails and things have slipped through the cracks’.
No evidence of alleged fraud
The Echo sought further clarity from Steele-Bennett, given there was no evidence offered by him of alleged fraud by Brown, and nothing further has been supplied by Steele-Bennett, other than claims that he wasn’t aware of the court case with Brown.
Brown added, ‘He said he would get it “sorted out once and for all” more than one year after continual avoidance’.
‘To date, no further payment has been received’.
Miranda Bruce told The Echo she has been contacted by multiple sources, advising they are unable to speak out against the Byron Rangers because they have been told they were bound by non-disclosure agreements.