The former owners of three sushi outlets have been fined over $380,000 for underpaying 31 workers on rates as low as $9 an hour.
The Federal Circuit Court handed down the hefty penalty last week after a 2016 Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigation into Tokyo Sushi outlets in regional NSW uncovered evidence of widespread worker exploitation.
A $63,936 fine was levied against the director of two companies operating the outlets — Hasegawa & Ye International Pty Ltd and Heiwa International Pty Ltd — which have also been penalised $150,120 and $169,560 respectively.
The director, who no longer operates the stores, has back-paid the majority of the wages but the Court ordered the balance to be paid within 28 days.
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Workers were shortchanged more than $70,000 on hourly rates ranging between $9 and $19, plus 25% loadings on Saturdays and 50% on Sundays.
The director admitted to the Fair Work Act contraventions during the hearing, submitting she did not understand the legal requirements, but Judge Philip Dowdy said there was no “proper or reasonable excuse”.
“The Admitted Contraventions are on any basis objectively serious,” he said.
“The simple fact of the matter is that persons who engage in business activities which necessitate the employment of staff are under a strict obligation to pay their staff the just entitlements of the staff in accordance with law, whether the relevant employer is a major corporation or, as here, a family business.”
The case is a big win for fair work ombudsman Sandra Parker, who has made targeting worker exploitation in the fast-food, restaurant and cafe sector a priority since taking the job last year.
“Inspectors will continue to conduct targeted audits across the fast food, restaurant and café sector and we will hold employers accountable if they are not meeting their lawful obligations,” Parker said in a statement circulated on Monday.
It is also not the first time sushi outlets have come under the FWO’s microscope, with a blitz of similar businesses conducted last year revealing $746,000 in unpaid wages.
Hasegawa & Ye International Pty Ltd and Heiwa International Pty were unable to be reached for comment on Monday morning.