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Alphabet Media avoids court with last-ditch salary settlement, shuts Australian office

Alphabet Media logoAlphabet Media, the Singapore-based publisher of government technology brand FutureGov has avoided going to court over unpaid staff salary by quietly reimbursing a former events executive the day before the company was due at a labour tribunal hearing.

Vinita Penna, a member of Alphabet’s events department that was axed in January, said she was owed S$3,500 and began legal proceedings against the company. However, the money was paid the day before the parties were due in court.

Penna now works for OpenGov, a new rival to FutureGov set up by two former Alphabet senior sales executives, Mohit Sagar and Ellen Quek, a few weeks after they left in January.

Meanwhile, the Australian office of Alphabet Media has effectively closed down as the company faces claims of unpaid debts from Australian suppliers and conference speakers.

Two companies, one the provider of audiovisual services for events, have called in debt collectors to recoup a total of AU$32,000 from Alphabet Media.

Calls to the company’s Sydney office found the company’s phones had been disconnected, while a FutureGov Forum due to take place at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Perth on March 26 appears to have been axed.

Hotel events staff at the Pan Pacific declined to reveal if the forum was going ahead and referred all enquiries to Alphabet Media, while one speaker due to address the event told Mumbrella he was in the dark having received no communication from organisers.

The circumstances surrounding the demise of Sydney office also remains unclear with Alphabet Media founder and managing director James Smith claiming staff resigned en masse following frustrations over how events were being run. But that was countered by reports that the Australian team was let go at the same time the company axed its events arm in Singapore.

Smith, who founded the Singapore-based government technology publishing and events brands in 2003, declined to answer emailed questions on the future of the Australian operation.

The company’s website continues to list the head of its Australian operation as general manager Aron Kunaseelan. However he told Mumbrella he was no longer employed by the company and was removing himself as a director from the Australian entity.

Among those seeking payment from Alphabet Media is Peter Hind, chief executive of Sydney-based The Hindsight Forum, who penned reports for FutureGov. He is working with Dun & Bradstreet to retrieve around $15,000, and was told by Alphabet Media that the first of five instalments would be paid in February. Hind told Mumbrella he received no payment.

A South Australian government official shared emails with Mumbrella that suggests Alphabet Media has not reimbursed travel expenses for a FutureGov event he attended as a speaker last October.

Gary Maguire, manager of business and location intelligence for the South Australian’s Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, participated as an International Leader at the FutureGov Summit in Canberra. He personally funded his trip as his employer’s overseas travel policy did not cover airfares at short notice.<

A government delegate from the Philippines has also shared emails that show outstanding payment for travel expenses dating back to last year.

It is not the first time Alphabet Media has faced action over unpaid wages by former employees. Singapore’s labour tribunal found in favour of former sales executive Fiona Cher last June over S$2,700 (US$2,160) in outstanding salary.<

In January, Alphabet Media faced a claim of unpaid contribution to Singapore’s Central Provident Fund tax.

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