A judge has slammed the former manager of a chocolate café for testing “what he could get away with” in deliberately targeting certain workers for underpayment.
Steven Chung, the former manager of an Oliver Brown outlet at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, was fined $27,200 after Federal Circuit Court Judge Salvatore Vasta said the café was “an enterprise in which Mr Chung quite deliberately calculated to see what it was that he could ‘get away with’.”
The court heard Mr Chung used the vulnerabilities of 12 employees, including five Korean nationals and four junior workers, as leverage to underpay them.
“There doesn’t appear to be any other explanation as to why there were some rates given to some people and other rates to others, except when one looks at the personal and cultural background of the workers,” Judge Vasta said.
“[Mr Chung] discriminated against a number of the employees, on, it would seem, the basis either of coming from a non-English speaking background, having a visa or their youth.”
Between January and September 2015, the 12 employees were shortchanged to the tune of $24,575, although Mr Chung was only involved in the underpayments since becoming the manager on 11 July that year.
Those underpayments ranged from as little as $83 to as much as $9,188. The workers were also not provided with payslips.
“For persons who are on the minimum wage, such sums are quite crucial just simply to their existence and, for that reason, actions that result in their not being paid properly cannot be simply dismissed as being ‘minor infractions’,” Judge Vasta said.
Judge Vasta added that had the underpayments been allowed to continue for the full year, the underpayments could have added up to as much as $80,000 – providing the business with a distinctly unfair competitive advantage.
“For any business to be, in effect, saving $80,000 in employee entitlements would give them a significant advantage over businesses that were mindful and respectful of their legal obligations to ensure that workers were properly paid,” he said.
All of the workers were reimbursed in full last year.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.