Yet another case of wage underpayment and poor record-keeping has highlighted the need for employers to keep abreast of award rates and their obligations or risk hefty penalties.
The Federal Circuit Court found Abdul Hafeex Bilwani, the previous owner of the Red Salmon restaurant in Melbourne’s Westfield Knox, guilty of deliberately underpaying 11 workers by a combined $26,707 in less than four months.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the workers – six of whom were under 21 years old at the time of their employment – were paid flat rates that failed to meet even the minimum hourly award rate, let alone penalty rates.
This saw them lose between 17 per cent and 38 per cent of their entitled wages. All workers have since been repaid.
“Claims that [Mr Bilwani] took ‘a genuine interest in’ his ‘staff’s wellbeing and personal development’ are hollow when one considers there were significant underpayments involved in this case,” the judge said.
“Goodwill does not pay employees’ rent and food bills.”
Mr Bilwani was also criticised for not keeping proper employment records – despite having “extensive dealings” with the Ombudsman since 2003 and already having been put on notice for underpaying staff.
“While the respondents say the bookkeeper, external accountant and restaurant manager were responsible for operational matters and financial compliance, it is difficult to conclude that the contraventions were not deliberate decisions taken in the operation of the business,” concluded the judge.
“I am not persuaded that the respondents have demonstrated remorse or contrition, particularly having regard to the approach of [Mr Bilwani] in attempting to deflect blame to other staff when he was clearly the controlling mind of the business.”
Ombudsman Natalie James repeated her plea for employers to check with the FWO that they are meeting their obligations, by visiting the Fair Work website or calling the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
“We go to great lengths to promote compliance in Australian workplaces. We have a dedicated small business helpline, targeted education campaigns and a wealth of resources freely available,” said Ms James.
“There is simply no excuse when operators, as in this case, underpay staff when they have already been put on notice.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.