A Tasmanian Crust Gourmet Pizza franchisee will face the Federal Circuit Court over allegations it discriminated against international employees by paying them less than Australian workers.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is taking action against north Hobart Crust owner QHA Foods and two of its directors, alleging the business underpaid 14 workers by $16,178.
However, the FWO is also alleging the business discriminated against three Bangladeshi nationals and one Indian national by paying them up to $6 an hour less than their Australian counterparts.
The FWO alleges the international workers, who were on student visas at the time, were underpaid a total of $9,926 for work performed between January and July in 2016.
It is alleged they were paid a flat hourly rate of $12 for all hours worked, plus $1 per pizza delivery.
Meanwhile, six Australian employees at the outlet are alleged to have been paid a higher minimum rate of more than $18 an hour, while three were paid up to $46.31 an hour on public holidays.
It is also alleged the international workers were not provided with payslips and were paid in cash, whereas the Australian workers were paid into bank accounts and received payslips.
It is only the second time the Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced action against an employer for allegedly discriminating against employees on the basis of nationality.
In the first case, decided earlier this year, more than $200,000 in penalties were handed down by the Court.
“We allege that four migrant workers were paid significantly less than other staff at a Crust pizza franchisee because they were not Australian,” fair work ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
Despite allegations they were paid a higher rate than their international counterparts, the FWO said the “incorrect application of some provisions” resulted in 10 Australian workers being underpaid a total of $6,252.
QHA Foods faces a maximum penalty of $54,000 per breach, while the directors face penalties of up to $18,000 per breach.
The FWO also alleges the business breached workplace laws while being investigated by providing altered records which omitted records of hours worked by the overseas workers.
Being pursued for underpayment as well as discrimination could result in tougher penalties if the business is found guilty, Patron Legal partner James Francis tells SmartCompany.
“[The FWO] is focusing on migrant workers that might be particularly vulnerable due to their language skills or their visa status.”
Francis says its possible the directors of QHA Foods saw migrant workers as an opportunity to save money.
“It is possible that employers generally in this space may be less likely to pay Australian workers less and that could be because of their familiarity with the workplace laws,” he says.
A directions hearing for the case involving the Hobart franchisee is listed to go before the Federal Circuit Court in Hobart on November 23.
SmartCompany contacted QHA Foods for comment but did not get a response prior to publication.