Legal

Fruit shop fined $243,000 after paying workers just $10 an hour in latest wage theft ruling

Matthew Elmas /

An independent grocer that paid workers just $10 an hour has been fined $243,000 for wage theft and falsifying employment records.

A & S Wholesale Fruit and Vegetables, trading across two Melbourne-based stores, was on Monday ordered to pay $200,000 in penalties for underpaying three workers more than $130,000 over at least two-and-a-half years.

A further $43,000 in fines were handed to the company’s director and its operation manager, both of whom were implicated in the Fair Work Act breaches.

The business was paying two of its workers off the books in cash for some of the hours they worked, and despite being warned by the FWO in 2014, continued to pay workers a flat rate which ripped them off.

One of the employees worked 130 hours per fortnight on average, including 54 hours of overtime which was paid at $10 an hour in cash, the Federal Court heard.

The other worker, aged just 16 when she was first hired, was paid $10 for all hours worked.

The case is just the latest penalty handed down by the Federal Court for wage theft as the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) continues efforts to end Australia’s underpayment epidemic.

Region-specific audits in recent months have uncovered wage theft rates as high as 22% among small businesses, while multiple six-figure fines have been handed down so far this year in other cases.

Ombudsman Sandra Parker said on Monday the most recent penalty sends a “strong message” to employers, while Judge O’Sullivan said the behaviour undermines the “fundamental objectives” of Australia’s workplace laws.

“[The]  failure to make proper records, keep false employment records and failure to make timely provision of accurate pay slips to the employees, undermines the utility and fundamental objectives,” O’Sullivan said.

A & S Wholesale was unable to be contacted for comment on Monday afternoon.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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