Legal

Mistreatment on display after Victorian restaurant underpays employees $20,000

Broede Carmody /

Two businesses operating in north-east Victoria have been ordered to display notices detailing breaches of workplace law after a sister restaurant underpaid two cooks more than $20,000.

Hargulab Singh, the former operator of the Hot Million Indian Restaurant in Mount Beauty, has agreed to back-pay two former employees following an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Singh also operates the Hot Million Indian restaurant in Benalla and Yack’s café in Yackandandah.

The two cooks – one a 23-year-old man on a 457 visa and the other a 36-year-old man who is a permanent Australian resident – were underpaid a total of $13,081 and $7521 respectively between November 2013 and March 2014.

The Fair Work Ombudsman found both workers received sporadic and irregular payments which were the equivalent of receiving on average $11.42 and $9.84 an hour respectively. The restaurant also underpaid the employees’ annual leave entitlements, made unauthorised deductions from their pay and failed to issue pay slips.

Both cooks resigned because they could not support themselves financially and later contacted Fair Work about the mistreatment.

According to the employer watchdog, Singh “cooperated fully” with the investigation and agreed to enter an enforceable undertaking. Under the terms of the agreement, he has agreed to a payment plan which will see the former employees back-paid for all outstanding wages and entitlements by March this year.

The undertaking also requires Singh’s two other businesses in Benalla and Yackandandah to display notices detailing the parent company’s breaches of workplace law.

Sarah Lock, principal consultant at Workplace Law Specialists Brisbane, told SmartCompany

The Fair Work Ombudsman can offer an enforceable undertaking to an employer instead of taking the matter to court, which is a “very time consuming and costly process”.

“In this case not only did the employer have to back pay all outstanding wages and entitlements, but a number of other requirements were imposed including workplace notices to be posted around the other two restaurants owned by Mr Singh,” Lock says.

“Whilst I think enforceable undertakings are a good alternative by actively rectifying the breaches, it needs to be ensured that the enforceable undertakings are not a more severe reprimand and more onerous than the employer taking the matter to court.” 

“Some employers simply do not understand the implications of not paying and classifying employees correctly and could be named and shamed through their lack of understanding of workplace compliance with the Fair Work Act.”

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said in a statement the incident serves as a reminder for SMEs to comply with workplace laws.

“We know workplace laws can be complicated for the uninitiated, and for those who are not industrial experts, but we ask small business to use the tools and resources that we provide for them and inform themselves,” James said.

“Equipping people with the information they need encourages and empowers employees and employers to resolve issues in their workplace and build a culture of compliance, ensuring a level playing field for all.”

SmartCompany contacted Hargulab Singh but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior SmartCompany reporter. Before this, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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