Elite swimming club in underpayment stoush with coach - The Age

One of the nation’s most respected swimming clubs is embroiled in a bitter legal stoush with a former coach, amid allegations of underpayment, bullying and inappropriate comments towards young athletes.

Melbourne Vicentre Swimming Club has produced a string of Olympic champions, including Mack Horton, Giaan Rooney and Michael Klim, but is now accused of underpaying its former coach Matthew King more than $200,000, according to court documents.

Mr King, who was responsible for the national youth squad until 2018, claims his employment was covered by the Fitness Industry Award, which entitled him to penalty rates when he did not receive a 10-hour break between shifts.

Lawyers for Mr King argue the condition was not complied with when he regularly finished coaching shifts at 7.30pm and then began the following day at 5am. They also claim underpayment of penalty rates for weekends, public holidays and broken shift allowances.

Mr King claimed that he first informed the club’s then chief executive, Nicole Livingstone, and former head coach Ian Pope that he was being underpaid during a performance review at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in 2014.

He claims that Ms Livingstone, a three-time Olympian who now works with the AFL, told him in 2015 that he was covered by a different award.

“Ms Livingstone said words to the effect that ‘if you go to the Fair Work Commission it would be the end of the club’,” according to a statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court.

However, lawyers for Melbourne Vicentre denied that Ms Livingstone made the comments and claimed that she did not attend Mr King’s performance review in 2014.

 In a defence statement, the swimming club claimed that Mr King was told by chairman Andrew Horton, the father of Olympic gold medalist Mack Horton, that he was not covered by the Fitness Industry Award because he was a ‘silver licence’ qualified swimming coach.

Mr King was also issued with two warning letters and directed to attend sessions with a sports psychologist following a string of complaints from parents about his coaching style, according to the defence statement.

In July 2017, Mr King was suspended in response to complaints about “allegations involving physical and emotional harm to children,” which included claims that he pushed young swimmers too hard and made inappropriate comments, according to court documents.

He was reinstated in August 2017 following an internal review, but was terminated from his coaching role in May 2018 while on extended sick leave.

Mr King’s lawyers McDonald Murholme Solicitors claim Melbourne Vicentre took adverse action against its client by making the allegations about his conduct, imposing a suspension and then sacking him.

They have also accused the club of making a series of false and misleading statements.

A spokeswoman for McDonald Murholme Solicitors said the court would be asked to decide whether or not Mr King was classified by the Fitness Industry Award by reason of his silver licence.

“If classified the court will be asked to interpret the award in his favour in the order $200,000 as a result of the application of penalty rates under the award, which were not paid to Mr King during his employment with the club.”

A spokesman for Melbourne Vicentre Swimming Club said it would vigorously defend the claim in court.

 “Mr King was employed as a coach with MVC for 10 years and throughout that time was paid above industry rates to perform his duties,” the spokesman said.

Mr King’s failure to perform those duties and refusal to accept the shortcomings of his coaching, relationship with other staff and conduct when working with children and engaging with parents resulted in the club’s decision to terminate his employment.”

Reference: ‘Elite swimming club in underpayment stoush with coach‘, The Age, Sunday 18th August 2019.