A Melbourne restaurateur and his accountant have been handed $200,000 in fines for underpaying vulnerable overseas workers in the latest wage theft case to hit the hospitality sector.
Box Hill-based Tina’s Noodle Kitchen and Swanston Street’s Dainty Sichuan restaurant paid workers as little as $10 an hour on six or seven day a week rosters, the Federal Court has found.
Staff were underpaid more than $30,000 across both venues, which also contravened record-keeping obligations. The wages have since been repaid.
The restaurants were fined a combined $183,000 for the underpayment, while the owner of both businesses was ordered to pay a $15,000 penalty.
An in-house accountant connected to both businesses was also fined $11,000 after admitting to being an accessory to the underpayments.
The ruling closes a three-year long case for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), after the underpayments were initially uncovered in a 2016 audit.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the ruling was another case of a business exploiting migrant workers — something that’s become a common feature of FWO prosecutions.
“The exploitation of migrant workers is unacceptable as they can be particularly vulnerable in the workplace due to language barriers or visa status. Minimum wage rates apply to everyone in Australia, including visa-holders, and they are not negotiable,” Parker said in a statement.
The $200,000 fine comes two weeks after the Federal Court handed down record penalties to the operators of three Hero Sushi outlets, handing them more than $890,00 in penalties for underpaying workers to the tune of $700,000.
As significant underpayment cases continue to crop up across the fast-food, retail and cafe industries, the federal government is preparing to host a working group to pull together policy solutions to crack down on systemic staff underpayments in Australia.
Meetings about potential policy solutions, which will field suggestions from business groups and unions, kick off this week, forming part of Scott Morrison’s JobMaker coronavirus recovery package.
SmartCompany contacted the restaurant for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.