A Queensland sushi restaurant owner must repay four young backpackers $28,600 and make a $10,000 donation following a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation.
The owner and operator of Bundaberg’s Nodaji Sushi restaurant, Younsig Kang, paid some employees flat rates of $14 an hour when they should have received between $21.65 and $25.13 an hour.
Employees also had $12 a day deducted from their wages for “food and drinks” even when they didn’t consume anything from the shop.
When Fair Work inspectors initially investigated Kang, he told them the Korean backpackers had agreed to work for below-Award wages.
He called them “troublemakers” for approaching the FWO for help.
The female employees were backpackers working in Australia on 417 working holiday visas.
Following investigation, Kang agreed to reimburse the workers all their outstanding wages and entitlements, publicly apologise for his behavior and give a commitment to comply with federal workplace laws in future.
Kang’s two companies, Knodaji and Taejin, will each make a $5000 donation to the Queensland Working Women’s Centre to help it promote workplace rights.
SmartCompany contacted Kang but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Ben Tallboys, lawyer at Russell Kennedy, told SmartCompany it is unclear why Kang underpaid his staff.
“Unfortunately employers are still often making these sort of mistakes and it just highlights the importance of getting advice when taking on a new employee instead of waiting until there is a problem,” Tallboys says.
He says employers should beware of the following when hiring staff:
1. Ignoring the FWO website when determining pay
“The FWO website has great tools for working out appropriate pay rates and it should always be the first point of reference,” Tallboys says.
2. Failing to seek professional advice when still unclear
“At the end of the day if an employer is not certain what they should be paying a staff member then they should seek professional advice,” Tallboys says.
“That advice is always going to cost less than dealing with the ombudsman.”
3. Providing an off-the-cuff response to an underpayment claim
“If someone claims they are underpaid, or if the ombudsman comes knocking, employers need to seek advice before providing a response,” Tallboys says.
He says in this case it appears Kang took offence at the employees making a complaint and sent off a hurried response, which referred to the complainants as ‘troublemakers’.
“I suspect that is why Nodaji Sushi was required to make the $10,000 donation, which was effectively a penalty,” Tallboys says.