Restaurant operators hoped to get away with underpayments

21 January, 2016 by
Danielle Bowling

The operators of Uchouten Japanese Restaurant in Queensland’s Surfers Paradise have admitted to deliberately underpaying staff members and hoping they wouldn’t get caught by Fair Work.

Unfortunately for them, one of the underpaid employees complained to the Ombudsman’s Gold Coast office, prompting an investigation. It found that the workers, many in Australia on 417 working holiday visas, were paid flat rates as low as $10 an hour for their roles as kitchen hands and wait staff.

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Under the Restaurant Industry Award, they should have been paid at least $21.09 for normal hours worked, up to $25.31 on weekends and $42.18 on public holidays.

Collectively the workers were underpaid more than $31,500 between December 2013 and October 2014.

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The operators, Chiiko Minagawa and Moon Yeom said the underpayments were intentional and they had hoped to not get caught.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, the business faces enforcement action and has been requested to sign an Enforceable Undertaking, which requires backpayment of all outstanding entitlements; a public apology; employment records to be maintained and payslips issued to staff; a commitment to future compliance with workplace laws; workplace relations training and more.

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James said Fair Work inspectors are increasingly finding employers from non-English speaking background who have little or no understanding of their workplace obligations – or choose to ignore them.

“Anyone running a business, including migrants, need to ensure they understand our workplace laws applicable to their business,” she said.

“We will not tolerate the deliberate exploitation of overseas workers, and clearly when we look at the penalties being handed down by the courts for this behaviour, they are also taking a very dim view of rogue employers.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman – which is is currently conducting a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa – has a specialist Overseas Worker’s Team, established in mid-2012, to help combat the exploitation of overseas workers in Australia.

Dedicated Young Worker’s and Regional Services teams also focus on vulnerable workers, and recently community engagement officers were appointed to foster relationships with international student bodies and multi-cultural communities as well.

Visa holders now represent about 11 percent of the total number of employees seeking assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman. In 2014-15, the Agency filed 20 matters in court and recouped $1.6 million for visa holders.