A Brisbane sushi restaurant has been fined a hefty $355,000 for underpaying dozens of staff in what is the second-highest penalty the Fair Work Ombudsman has secured in a Queensland case, and one of the highest nationally.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court concluded that Delishesco Pty Ltd deliberately underpaid 34 employees a total of $75,716 between December 2018 and March 2019, and then falsified payslips and timesheet documents to cover its tracks.
Delishesco, which operates Moga Izakaya & Sushi, copped a $305,000 fine while its sole director, majority shareholder and restaurant manager, Yinan “Stanley” Yang, from Hornsby in Sydney’s north, was personally fined $50,000.
It’s a major win for staff at the popular sushi joint, many of whom were Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai visa holders; mostly casual workers; and in some cases very young — between 19-21, the Ombudsman said.
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The regulator initially got wind of the underpayments after one staff member reported being allegedly paid just $16 an hour. The minimum wage in 2018-19 was $18.93.
Despite being formally cautioned about underpayment, Delishesco refused to backpay staff. It wasn’t until legal action was commenced by the ombudsman that staff received payments ranging from $92 to $9588.
The regulator added that Delishesco knowingly provided the investigators with falsified records when they began looking into the allegations.
Presiding over the case, Judge Salvatore Vasta found Yang deliberately underpaid the employees — including minimum wage rates, casual loadings, overtime, split-shift allowances, and penalty rates for weekend, public holiday and night work — as part of a systemic pattern of conduct.
Eight of the underpayment contraventions were considered “serious” under the Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws, which was part of the reason the penalty was so steep.
“In this case, the aspect of deterrence looms large. In fact, it might seem that it overshadows almost everything else.
“The severity and seriousness of what [Delishesco and Yang] have done cannot be overstated,” Vasta concluded.
“Most of these employees are workers on visas who are apt to being exploited because of their unfamiliarity with the English language and Australian industrial law.”
Fair Work ombudsman Sandra Parker warned anyone who takes advantage of foreign workers that they can expect the regulator to come down hard.
“As the substantial penalties highlights, deliberately exploiting migrant workers and using false records even after the regulator has put you on notice is extremely serious conduct that will not be tolerated,” Parker said.
“All workers in Australia have the same rights, regardless of nationality and visa status, and those rights must be respected.”
She added any worker with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free assistance.
Moga Paddington did not respond to requests for comment.