Bendigo restaurant operators fined $142,000 over staff underpayments

28 August, 2015 by
Aoife Boothroyd

The former operators of a Bendigo restaurant have been fined $142,000 following legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Fair Work found that Sona Peaks Pty Ltd, which previously operated the Curry Garden Indian Restaurant in Victoria’s Goldfields region, had been repeatedly underpaying its staff. The company was fined $118,650, and the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne imposed a further penalty of $23,715 against the company’s sole director and part-owner, David Peter Anderson.

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The penalties are the result of an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to nine casual and part-time employees who were underpaid $11,201 between October, 2012 and September, 2013. The Court has also ordered Sona Peaks to back-pay the workers their outstanding entitlements in full.

This marks the second time the Fair Work Ombudsman has secured Court-issued penalties in relation to underpayments at the venue. Earlier this year, Sona Peaks and Anderson were fined a total of $15,500 for refusing to back-pay another employee who was owed more than $5000.

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“We are happy to resolve cases of inadvertent underpayments co-operatively with employers – but we will not tolerate cases of repeated and blatant underpayments by employers who refuse to take corrective action,” said Fair Work ombudsman Natalie James.

In the latest case, the underpayments were the result of the employees – a cook and eight waiting staff – being paid flat rates as low as $10.50 an hour. Record-keeping obligations were also breached.

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Despite numerous warnings and the earlier Court action, Sona Peaks and Anderson continued to underpay the employees. Judge John O’Sullivan found that the case involved deliberate underpayments of vulnerable workers – including three teenagers and an Indian international student – and said the penalties imposed should deter others from similar conduct.

In his judgment, Judge O’Sullivan said that Anderson and Sona Peaks were “abundantly aware of their obligations and the consequences of a breach” and found they had shown no contrition. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman discovered the underpayments as part of a proactive audit conducted as part of the second wave of the Agency’s National Hospitality Industry Campaign.

The Fair Work Ombudsman revealed last month that the second wave of its National Hospitality Industry Campaign recovered more than $1.2 million for 2752 underpaid food service workers at 456 restaurants, cafs and catering companies nationally. This included more than $386,000 being recouped for 698 employees in Victoria alone.