Jia Ning Wang, the former manager of Fire and Stone restaurant on Queensland’s Moreton Island, and its owner Auspac Hospitality Management Pty Ltd were fined by the Federal Circuit Court, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) revealed.
The restaurant is located at the Tangalooma Island Resort.
According to the FWO, nine employees — most of whom were overseas workers — had collectively been underpaid to the tune of $2,239 in minimum wages and entitlements while working at the restaurant between March and October 2017.
Rules around record keeping and the provision of payslips were also broken.
Yet the ombudsman said it is the third time in just three years that Mr Wang has been penalised for underpaying employees.
In July 2016, he was personally fined $3,500, and his company, Golden Vision Food and Beverage Services, was fined $17,500 for allegedly paying a Chinese backpacker wages of only $10 per hour, well below the industry award.
At the time, the FWO said the backpacker had seen a wage shortfall of $1,577 in the space of only 19 days, and that the employer initially refused to back-pay her because she “ate too much food and used too much airconditioning”.
Then nine months later, in March 2017, both Golden Vision Food and Beverage Services and Mr Wang were fined a further $51,830 and $20,366, respectively, for underpaying an international student — again by paying fixed hourly wages of $10, and then firing her by SMS when she refused to accept below-award pay.
“This young student deserves the utmost praise for informing herself of what her work rights were in Australia and standing up to an employer seeking to exploit her,” Michael Campbell, then acting Fair Work Ombudsman, said at the time.
However, shortly after the second set of penalties were issued, the Fire and Stone restaurant was sold to Auspac Hospitality Management, the FWO said, and Golden Vision Food and Beverage Services went into administration. The 2017 penalty was allegedly never paid.
ASIC’s company register shows that Golden Vision Food and Beverage Services Pty Ltd was deregistered on 19 April 2018.
As a result of the situation, stronger penalties were handed down this month: the court imposed a fine of $38,808 on Mr Wang personally, and Auspac Hospitality Management was ordered to cough up $75,000.
The regulator quoted the presiding judge as calling Mr Wang an experienced businessman whose conduct was “reckless” and “inexcusable”.
It is only the second time that an individual has been the subject of three separate legal actions for breaches of workplace laws, the FWO said.
“We have taken three separate court actions against Mr Wang for his role in underpaying migrant workers. The message is clear: it is unacceptable to underpay migrant workers and we will pursue those consistently doing the wrong thing by their employees,” Ombudsman Sandra Parker said.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman is cracking down on underpayments in the fast food, restaurant and café sector. We will continue to conduct surprise audits of businesses suspected of underpaying workers, and utilise our full suite of enforcement tools to hold employers to account.”