Pie Face is the latest Australian company to come under scrutiny for allegedly underpaying workers on 457 visas.
The allegations have become public after officials from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection paid a surprise visit to a Pie Face operation in Sydney yesterday.
However, Pie Face chief executive Kevin Waite told SmartCompany this morning the officials didn’t “swoop” in on the company or seize any documents, contrary to what he says is a “ridiculous” report by Fairfax on Monday.
According to Fairfax, the unannounced visit related to claims a group of workers at the Pie Face operation have been underpaid.
Waite confirmed the visit took place but he said the officials were responding to an anonymous tip-off, which he believes was made by a disgruntled former employee.
“They were incredibly professional and polite … they were responding to a call to their anonymous dob-in line, which they need to do. We take this very seriously,” Waite says.
The two officials visited the Pie Face production facilities and interviewed each of the company’s six workers who are on working visas.
According to Waite, the workers were found to be receiving their correct entitlements.
“We are trying to rebuild this company and be very ethical and open,” Waite says.
“All six of our employees on visa are some of our best employees. The minimum time they have spent with us is four years and the maximum is six years.”
“It doesn’t make sense that they would only be reporting it now if they had been treated badly.”
Waite says he welcomes the check-up from the department and will take on board any advice officials offer.
A spokesperson for Michaelia Cash, assistant minister for immigration and border protection, told SmartCompany this morning the Department of Immigration and Border Protection “is aware of this allegation”.
“As this matter is under investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” the spokesperson says.
A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman also told SmartCompany the Ombudsman’s office has received a number of enquiries from Pie Face employees since December 2014 in relation to entitlements they believed were owing to them.
“The employees were provided with information and advice about workplace laws and advised to contact the administrators that had been appointed to the company,” the spokesperson says.
Pie Face, which emerged from voluntary administration late in December 2014, joins a host of other Australian employers recently implicated in claims workers or contractors on working visas have been exploited.
Labour hire companies in particular have come under fire, including AWX and its related entities, while poultry producer Baiada has also been accused of not adequately paying overseas workers, forcing them to work extremely long hours or requiring them to pay excessive rent for overcrowded and unsafe employee accommodation.
Last month Australia Post was also drawn into claims some of its contractors were hiring foreign students to work in contravention of their student visas or were underpaying their sub-contractors.
The spokesperson for Senator Cash says the government “takes any alleged breach of 457 visa sponsorship very seriously”.
“If a sponsor is found to have failed to honour an obligation, the department take appropriate action, which may take the form of imposing administrative sanctions, issuing infringement notices, executing enforceable undertakings or applying to the federal court for a civil penalty order,” the spokesperson says.
The spokesperson says sponsors found to be mistreating workers can also have their sponsorship cancelled and be barred from sponsoring other workers for up the five years.
“Cancellation of sponsorship would have a significant impact on businesses as they would not be able to sponsor further workers and the department may consider cancellation of the visas of their current sponsored workers,” the spokesperson says.
“The minister may also pursue civil penalties.”