JOHN Hancock's attempt to launch a career outside his family's mining heritage has hit a wall, with his fledgling building products company embroiled in a patent dispute and the subject of claims it underpaid workers.
The Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed yesterday it was investigating complaints from former employees of Future Building Material Corp over lost pay and superannuation. A spokesman would not comment further "as the investigation was ongoing".
Mr Hancock's business partner and the inventor of FBM's so-called R9 panel, Jerome Naidoo, said he "welcomed the investigation".
He provided documents that he said proved that wages and superannuation were up to date although some payments appear to have been made since the launch of the Fair Work investigation. Several former employees claim they are still owed up to $18,000 each.
Mr Hancock and Mr Naidoo declined to comment further but are believed to view the claim as a hangover from the messy divorce between Mr Naidoo and his former backers earlier this year, which had spilled over into a patent battle.
The son of the world's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, took a half-share in the company earlier this year, after Mr Naidoo asked him to help him out of financial difficulty.
FBM's Malaysian-made building panels resemble freezer doors. Clad in thin fibre-cement sheets, a dual core is filled with polyurethane under high pressure to create a relatively lightweight but extremely strong wall panel with high energy-saving thermal properties.
They are being used at a handful of sites in Perth, and the company hopes to reach a global market.
FBM is separately fighting its Malaysian factory, Cycleworld, claiming it has breached FBM's pending patents by developing similar panels, labelled Rv8, which Cycleworld has licensed to an offshoot of Perth firm McGovern Construction.
Cycleworld declined to comment.
McGovern Construction said the matter was between FBM and Cycleworld as it was simply a licensee conducting trials on the product. WEST AUSTRALIAN