The former operators of two Hello Juice outlets in Geelong and Werribee have been penalised $276,929 for deliberately exploiting employees.

Skypic Group Pty Ltd and Skypac Group Pty Ltd operated the Geelong outlet until April 2019 and the Werribee until March 2020. The companies, which no longer operate these outlets, have been penalised $161,988.75 and $80,325 respectively. The general manager of both stores, Hua Gong, has also been penalised an additional $34,616.

In total, 27 employees were underpaid a total of $38,458 over various periods in 2017, including ten juniors under the age of 18. Workers at the Werribee store were underpaid $23,902.47 and workers at the Geelong store were underpaid $14,555.64. Employees have been back-paid.

The Fair Work Ombudsman found employees were paid low, flat rates, resulting in underpayment of the ordinary hourly rates, casual loadings and penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work they were entitled to under the Fast Food Industry Award 2010. Some employees were paid as low as $10 per hour.

On two seperate occasions, Gong and Skypac requested a worker aged in her 30s at the Werribee store pay amounts totalling $4,942.19 to cover part of a rectification payment and a tax refund payment made to her ($1,300 of which was paid) — a breach of laws relating to cash-back arrangements.

Gong and both companies further breached workplace laws relating to pay slips and record-keeping. Skypic Group and Gong failed to comply with a Notice to Produce records or documents, and were found to have provided inspectors with false or misleading records.

“Enforcing compliance with workplace laws in the fast food, restaurant and cafe sector, which employs many vulnerable workers, continues to be a priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

“Employers in this sector are on notice that they need to comply with workplace laws. The FWO expects all employers to comply with workplace obligations and they should access our free tools and resources if they need assistance. Any employees with queries about pay should contact us.”

Judge John O’Sullivan said Skypac and Skypic had previously been put on notice to comply with workplace laws, the breaches were serious and deliberate, and the penalties should “act as a deterrent to others who may be minded to flout the law”.

“It is also an illustration of, an all too common, a phenomena where employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who exploit workers (including, or especially, from within their own ethnic communities) and then come before the Court and seek to rely on their own alleged ignorance of workplace laws or foreign cultural norms to mitigate any penalties that need to be applied when they are finally caught out,” Judge O’Sullivan added.

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