FWO claims young Asian workers underpaid $100,000 in Tasmanian restaurant group

Four Japanese restaurants in Tasmania are being prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman after allegedly underpaying workers by more than $100,000.

Kazuhiro Kojima and Zhicheng Zhang, who own and operate ‘Bento Box’ restaurants in Launceston and the Wan Japanese restaurant, will face court over the allegations.

The pair is also directors and part-owners of Bento Kings Meadows Pty Ltd, which operates the Bento Kings Meadows restaurant in Launceston.

The Ombudsman has said 50 employees across the restaurants were underpaid a total of $105,738 in 2010 and 2011.

The workers are said to be predominantly young Asian nationals, some with limited English skills.

Chief executive of Restaurant and Catering John Hart told SmartCompany businesses need to educate themselves about workplace payment laws.

“The reality is that we know there are businesses that operate in this way and we certainly don’t support that style of operation.

“There are two aspects here; we have an incredibly complex system and the amount of effort to fully comply with the law is great.

“But in this case it seems they have clearly breached the laws and this could be in part put down to education,” he says.

Hart says for small businesses, many with less than eight employees, calculating each individuals wage can prove a challenge.

“We’re in a part way through a five year transition of phasing in certain requirements and phasing out others.

“The calculation of the amount they should be paid is dependent on a range of factors, there are some 20 different pay rates an employee could be on.

“It comes down to exactly what circumstance the business and individuals are in.

“It’s very difficult for small businesses under this regime – I’m not surprised that businesses aren’t fully compliant,” he says.

SmartCompany contacted the Bento, Wan Japanese and Bento Kings Meadows Pty Ltd for comment but they were unable to be reached.

The Fair Work Ombudsman audited the restaurants in 2011 and found many employees were paid as little as $5-$10 an hour, without appropriate penalty rates for weekend, evening and public holiday work.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said in a media release some back-payments had been made, but there was still a significant portion that remained outstanding.

The employees included a number of international students who performed food preparation, customer service, cleaning and cooking duties.

But Hart says it’s important to remember there are a number of factors that determine a person’s appropriate wage and all need to be considered.

“My view is these cash type wages that are being paid are often as much an advantage to the employee as the employer.

“It’s not always the case that businesses are in breach of the law.

“One needs to look at all of the factors to determine if they’re being paid the correct rate.

“There are instances when in fact the correct wage for someone may be under $16 – they could be under 21, an apprentice or a trainee,” he says.

Maximum penalties per breach range up to $6600 for individuals and $33,000 for corporations for offences prior to December 28, 2012.

Penalty rates for offences after this time have increased to $10,200 and $51,000 respectively.



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