Penalties of over $200,000 have been secured against a Melbourne restauranteur, his two companies and his in-house accountant for underpaying workers, with a similar situation unfolding in Hobart where a fine of $100,000 was handed down to a Turkish restaurant.
In both instances, the employees were mostly overseas workers, with Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker urging businesses to check their workplace compliance and stop exploiting vulnerable workers.
“The exploitation of migrant workers is unacceptable as they can be particularly vulnerable in the workplace due to language barriers or visa status. Minimum wage rates apply to everyone in Australia, including visa holders, and they are not negotiable,” Ms Parker said.
In Melbourne, 30 employees, mostly overseas workers on working holiday and student visas, were found to have been underpaid at Tina’s Noodle Kitchen and Dainty Sichuan to the tune of $30,995, during an audit in June 2016.
As a result, the Federal Circuit Court ordered Ye Shao, the restauranteur, to pay penalties of $15,000 and his companies Wynn Sichuan Pty Ltd and Nine Dragons Pty Ltd to pay $95,000 and $88,000, respectively.
The companies’ in-house accountant was also penalised $11,000, after admitting to being an accessory to the underpayment and record-keeping contraventions.
In Hobart, four employees were underpaid $32,411 at a Turkish restaurant between February 2015 and June 2016.
The court penalised the former owner and operator of Anatolia Restaurant in North Hobart, Oya Waechter, $78,000. Her husband, Peter Waechter, was also penalised $22,000 for his involvement in some breaches, including payslip failures.
“These penalties should serve as a warning to all employers to ensure that they are paying their workers correctly and issue accurate payslips. Any employees with concerns about their wages or entitlements should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman,” Ms Parker said.
The FWC explained that in both instances, the amounts paid failed to reflect hours worked, with overtime rates mostly disregarded, including penalty rates for weekends and public holidays.
Judge Grant Riethmuller, who presided over both cases, explained that Ms Waechter and her husband deliberately “ignored their obligations”.
“In this matter, there has been significant exploitation of employees who, for the most part, were never paid,” Judge Riethmuller said.
He added that the failure to provide the workers payslips was a “serious contravention” of the Fair Work Act that “significantly disempowers employees”.
According to the FWC, Melbourne restauranteur Ye Shao rectified the underpayments before the proceedings began, while Ms Waechter was ordered to back-pay all outstanding wages, with 98 per cent of underpayments remaining unpaid.