The former general manager of a labour hire business has been fined for “the deliberate exploitation” of regional workers, most of whom were in Australia on working holiday visas.
Zu Neng Shi, who was general manager of Raying Holding before it collapsed in 2015, placed 10 workers at an abattoir in the NSW Hunter region owned by smallgoods maker Primo Australia.
The Chinese migrant workers, two of whom had become Australian citizens and the rest on short-term working holiday visas, were employed as entry-level labourers. All 10 spoke little to no English.
Between March 2011 and July 2013, the workers were found by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to have been collectively underpaid $41,674, having been paid flat rates and not given overtime allowances.
The largest single underpayment facing one of the individuals amounted to $10,257.
Under the award, the flat hourly rates — ranging from $15.50 to $24 — fell short of the penalty rates of up to $33.05 to which they were entitled for working shifts longer than eight hours per day.
The casual workers also did not receive casual loading, nor were their ordinary hours or public holiday rates in line with the relevant award.
Mr Shi was also found not to have kept proper records or issued payslips.
Despite Raying Holdings backpaying the affected workers their full entitlements, the FWO continued to prosecute Mr Shi, citing “the seriousness of the contraventions and vulnerability of the workers”.
In finding Mr Shi guilty of breaching his duties as an employer, the Federal Circuit Court slapped Mr Shi with penalties worth $43,000.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James slammed Mr Shi, suggests there is “no excuse” for employers not to know their obligations.
“Blatantly underpaying staff and then trying to claim ignorance of workplace laws when you are caught out is a futile strategy,” Ms James said.
“Business operators are at serious risk of facing enforcement action if we find significant compliance issues at their business that are a result of them deliberately flouting the law or failing [to] make a concerted and genuine effort to comply.
“The wealth of free advice and educational material on our website at www.fairwork.gov.au — including in 40 different languages — and availability of our small business helpline means there is no excuse for mistakes, regardless of a business operator’s background.”
While Primo was named by the FWO as using the abattoir in question, John Berry — director and head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Primo's parent company JBS Australia — said the facility was owned by a different entity at the time of the offences.
“This practice was used by the old company prior to JBS taking over the abattoir in 2015. JBS purchased Primo in 2015, and this has no effect on JBS as the owner of Primo Smallgoods,” the spokesperson said.