The former operators of two car wash-cafés have been slapped with penalties worth close to $70,000 after they demanded an employee to pay back thousands in wages.
Richard Sang Kyun Kim and Chao “Tommy” Liu were the managing director and general manager, respectively, of the Expresso Carwash Café outlets at Southport and Labrador on the Gold Coast.
Employees at both sites were hired by the company Ausinko Pty Ltd which, according the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), said was placed into liquidation shortly after it began legal action over wage underpayments.
According to the FWO, the company underpaid its 59 employees to the tune of $147,362, and around half of them had been underpaid by more than $2,000.
The largest of those, the Ombudsman said in a statement, pertained to a cook who was a Korean national employed on a 457 visa and sponsored by the company.
The Federal Circuit Court agreed with the FWO’s finding that, between October 2012 and May 2014, the employee had been required to pay back $21,685 of her wages in regular cash payments — in breach of workplace rules.
Judge Michael Jarrett concluded that the employee agreed to do so “on the basis that she might lose her job and her visa if she did not”.
He labelled it a “deliberate strategy” on the company’s party to maintain “the appearance of compliance with workplace and immigration laws”.
The 58 other employees were found to have been paid less than award rates, with flat rates of payment set between $12 and $17 per hour.
Judge Jarrett also called out the idea that cultural norms could override Australian laws.
“Requests from his employees to be paid the amounts to which they were entitled caused (Mr Liu) to become upset because he expected loyalty from employees within ‘the Asian culture’,” he said.
“[This case] is an affront to the minimum employment standards that all employees should expect to receive in this country.”
Mr Kim was hit with personal fines of $42,432, while Mr Liu received penalties worth $26,520. They were also ordered to reimburse all 59 workers in full, and complete the FWO’s Hiring Employees training course.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker expressed concern at employers deliberately trying to circumvent their legal obligations.
“Any businesses who unlawfully ask for money back from their employees will face enforcement action,” Ms Parker said.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.