In proceedings instigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in June last year, Jakoub Abboud and his company Hair-Rass Me Pty Ltd were found to have underpaid the junior employee by $14,507 between July 2015 and July 2016.
When she was aged between 15 and 17, the apprentice had worked at a salon at Westfield Penrith, in Sydney’s western suburbs, that traded as Hair-Rass Me.
According to the FWO, the apprentice had typically worked 50 hours per week, but her wage payments fell well below that stipulated by the relevant award.
It said that most of the underpayment arose from overtime rates, although minimum award rates, penalty rates, annual leave entitlements and superannuation were also denied, as was the cost of a training course that was required to be reimbursed under the award.
It cites as an example one particular week where the apprentice was paid $300 for work to which she was entitled to get $653.90.
The regulator said that rather than a simple mistake or oversight, the underpayment had been a deliberate act by Mr Abboud, given that he had had previous dealings with its officers. It accused him of also breaking workplace laws by failing to provide employment records when it issued a formal request.
The Federal Circuit Court slapped a $70,000 penalty on the company, in addition to personally fining Mr Abboud $7,873.20.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that young employees and apprentices are “particularly vulnerable to exploitation”, as they tend not to be fully aware of their industry award or entitlements and that they can be reluctant to speak up if they do suspect they are being underpaid.
She said that ignorance of the law “is never an acceptable defense” for employers.
“Employers have a lawful responsibility to make themselves aware of the minimum wages and entitlements that apply to their employees, and to pay them in full,” she said.
It is understood that Hair-Rass Me is no longer trading, and the business is not listed on the shopping centre’s directory.