The operators of a Gold Coast restaurant have been penalised more than $284,000 and criticised by a judge for their “heinous” conduct after paying overseas workers as little as $8 an hour and using false records to try to cover it up.

A $38,000 penalty has been imposed against Shigeo Ishiyama, who owns and operates the Samurais Paradise restaurant at Surfers Paradise and formerly operated the Japanese Curry House Kawaii restaurant nearby.

Ishiyama’s company, Samurais Paradise Pty Ltd, has been penalised a further $246,400.

The penalties, imposed in the Federal Circuit Court, are the result of an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Ishiyama and his company underpaid nine employees a total of $59,080 over a period of just four months in 2015.

Most of the employees were Japanese citizens aged in their 20s who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas. They performed various cooking and waiting duties at the Samurais Paradise and Japanese Curry House Kawaii restaurants.

Fair Work inspectors first asked Ishiyama and his company to provide pay records for the two restaurants in 2015 as part of an auditing campaign targeting Gold Coast restaurants and fast food outlets. Inspectors warned them not to fabricate time-and-wages records if they didn’t exist.

After discovering some underpayments in the records provided, inspectors educated Ishiyama on his obligations under workplace laws and his company made back-payments to employees.

To finalise the audit, inspectors requested the company take steps to comply with workplace laws. The company then provided records purporting to show that all employees were now being paid correctly.

Fair Work Inspectors followed up to ensure the company had complied with its obligations and with the assistance of some workers, discovered the company had provided false records on two occasions.

Inspectors found Ishiyama and his company had been paying employees flat rates of between $8 and $11 an hour for all hours worked and created false records to conceal the underpayments.

Under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 at the time, the employees were entitled to minimum hourly rates of up to $18.47 and penalty rates ranging from $26.03 to $46.18 for weekend and public holiday work. Other loadings and allowances were also underpaid.

In his judgment, Judge Salvatore Vasta described the exploitation of the workers as “certainly deliberate” and imposed near-maximum penalties for the record-keeping contraventions, describing them as “very serious”.

“The aggravating circumstances of the falsifying of records and the provision on two occasions of false records, shows that this case is in a very serious bracket,” says Judge Vasta.

Ishiyama’s company has now back-paid the workers’ wages in full – and Judge Vasta has also ordered the company to back-pay the employees more than $8,000 in outstanding superannuation.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says any businesses found to be breaching record-keeping laws run the risk of receiving even higher penalties in the future.

“Using false records in attempt to get away with underpaying workers is an insidious practice,” says James. “Without adequate records it can sometimes be difficult for Fair Work Inspectors to accurately calculate a worker’s entitlements.

“The Parliament has also acknowledged the seriousness of falsifying records having recently passed legislation tripling the maximum penalties for this conduct.”

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