industrial relations

Fair Work Ombudsman legal action against Lovely Care for alleged $84,000 underpayment

Yolanda Redrup /

An emergency aged-care facility in Sydney has become the target of Fair Work Ombudsman legal action for allegedly underpaying two foreign casuals more than $84,000.

The Lovely Care facility, in the Sydney suburb of Peakhurst, and its manager and part-owner Elizabeth Bonilla will face court for multiple breaches of workplace law.

The FWO claims the facility underpaid two disability support workers employed on a casual basis a total of $84,450 between 2007 and 2011.

The employees were both recent migrants to Australia from Egypt and China, and the Chinese person spoke limited English.

SmartCompany contacted Lovely Care, but no one was commenting at this stage.

Underpayment of foreign workers is a common issue faced by the FWO as some employers target these people as they tend to be more vulnerable.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James told SmartCompany earlier this year the ombudsman invests its resources toward cracking down on industries which are attracting the most complaints.

“We will always take special care and focus on cases where vulnerable workers are involved such as young people, migrants and mature age workers,” she says.

“I would say to any business – if you’re unsure, seek advice.”

The two workers were allegedly working shifts of at least 15 hours and only being paid between $200 and $312. These flat rates did not cover the employees’ minimum hourly rate, casual loadings and a sleepover allowance.

The underpayments were investigated following complaints from the employees.

M+K Lawyers partner Andrew Douglas previously told SmartCompany the underpayment of foreigners has been a focus for the FWO.

“There are two things the FWO is currently really pursuing – the use of casual labour and industries most prone to using students and migrant workers,” he says.

“Our system is extraordinarily complex and for someone coming out of Asia, it would take years to understand it all,” he says.

The hospitality industry is frequently in the limelight for its treatment of foreign workers.

In April this year, the managers of the Melbourne-based Hongyun Chinese Restaurant were fined a total of $35,100 for underpaying a foreign cook who was in Australia on a bridging visa.

In September, a Perth cleaning company was hit with a record-break fine for underpaying six workers, five of whom were foreigners.

Housekeeping Ptd Ltd was fined a total of $286,550 and the business’s manager Catherine Paino-Povey was penalised a further $57,310.

The business prevented the FWO from conducting a proper investigation, gave dishonest representations to the ombudsman and showed no remorse, contributing greatly to its hefty penalty.

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