The former operator of an Asian fast-food outlet in northern Queensland has been slapped with $72,576 in penalties after underpaying a 71-year-old worker.

The mature-age employee, who is of a non-English-speaking background, requested assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman after he was underpaid a total of $12,658 over a period of four months.

The Federal Circuit Court ordered a $12,096 penalty to Luke McGrath, who formerly owned and operated several Wok Me outlets in Queensland and the ACT. Wok Me Corporate NQ Pty Ltd, has been penalised an additional $60,480.

The Chinese-born worker was not paid any wages for as much as eight weeks while he was working at the Rockhampton outlet as a cook.

In the instances the was paid, the employee received between $20.92 to $25.20 per hour and was sometimes undercut the minimum hourly rate for ordinary hours outlined in his Individual Flexibility Agreement made under the Fast Food Industry Award 2010.

Overtime, annual leave and superannuation entitlements were also underpaid and record-keeping and pay slip laws were breached.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman took court action against Wok Me because we prioritise matters involving the underpayment of vulnerable employees,” says Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

In addition to imposing the penalties, Judge Gregory Egan ordered McGrath to commission external audits of Individual Flexibility Agreements used at businesses he is involved in operating and to register with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s My Account portal and complete all education courses for employers in the Online Learning Centre.

The worker has since been back-paid in full.

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