The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action against the operator of a Japanese restaurant on the Gold Coast, alleging his company paid overseas workers as little as $8 an hour.
Facing the Federal Circuit Court is Shigeo Ishiyama, a Japanese migrant who owns and operates the Samurais Paradise restaurant at Surfers Paradise and formerly operated the Japanese Curry House Kawaii restaurant in the same area.
Also facing court is Ishiyama’s company Samurais Paradise Pty Ltd.
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges Ishiyama and his company underpaid nine employees a total of $59,080 over a period of four months between July and October, 2015, as a result of paying them as little as $8 an hour. It’s alleged Ishiyama also used false records to suggest he paid higher rates.
Most of the employees, who performed various cooking and waiting duties, were Japanese citizens aged in their 20s who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas.
Fair Work inspectors conducted a self-initiated audit of the restaurants in 2015 and allegedly discovered employees were being paid low, flat rates that undercut lawful minimums.
The audit was part of wider activity targeting Gold Coast restaurants and fast food outlets.
Inspectors educated Ishiyama on his obligations under workplace laws and his company subsequently made back-payments to employees.
However, after inspectors conducted follow-up checks of the restaurants, the Fair Work Ombudsman alleges Ishiyama and his company provided inspectors with false records purporting to show that employees were being paid lawful minimum rates.
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges Ishiyama’s company had in fact continued to underpay employees, paying flat rates of $8 to $11 an hour.
Under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 at the time, the employees were allegedly entitled to minimum hourly rates of up to $18.47 and penalty rates ranging from $26.03 to $46.18 an hour for weekend and public holiday work.
Alleged individual underpayments range from $2,128 to $11,006. The employees have been back-paid in full, except for one employee owed $3,246 who is yet to be located.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said legal action had been commenced due to the seriousness of the matter and the involvement of young overseas workers.
“It is completely unacceptable that this employer allegedly continued to blatantly undercut lawful minimum rates, despite being educated about his obligations,” James said.
Samurais Paradise Pty Ltd faces penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention an dIshiyama faces maximum penalties of up to $10,800 per contravention.
A hearing in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane is scheduled on 9 August 2017.
James said she is increasingly concerned about the number of employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are underpaying workers from within their own ethnic communities.
“I want to make it clear that the lawful obligations to pay minimum wage rates, keep appropriate employment records and issue pay slips apply to all employers in Australia and they are not negotiable,” she said.
“We treat cases involving underpayment of overseas workers particularly seriously because we are conscious that they can be vulnerable due to a lack of awareness of their entitlements, language barriers and a reluctance to complain.
“I understand there are cultural challenges and vastly different laws in other parts of the world, but it is incumbent on all businesses operating in Australia to understand and apply Australian laws.”