Nine overseas workers employed by a sushi restaurant chain in Brisbane were short-changed more than $123,000 over 16 months, a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation has found.

The Japanese and Korean nationals, including 417 working holiday visa-holders and international students, were paid flat hourly rates of between $11 and $13.50.

As a result, they were collectively underpaid a total of $123,431 between April 2014 and August last year. The nine were also underpaid their minimum hourly rates, casual loadings and penalties for weekends and public holidays and late night shifts.

The largest individual underpayments were $25,231, $19,859, $18,099 and $16,948.

The visa holders worked as kitchen and food and beverage attendants across three Sushi Go Round outlets in Grand Plaza and Village Square in Browns Plains and Forest Lake.

The Village Square and Forest Lake stores have since closed. 

Fair Work inspectors discovered the underpayments after the group contacted the Agency last year seeking assistance.

Sushi Go Round director Hiroshi Taira told the Fair Work Ombudsman he paid the visa holders at a rate that was common in the industry.

However, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said Taira was apprised of his workplace obligations in 2014 when his company was audited and found to be non-compliant. At the time, it was  found to have underpaid 14 employees more than $2,200.

As a result of the latest contraventions, the Fair Work Ombudsman has taken enforcement action against Taira and his company JH Enterprises (Qld) Pty Ltd.

While the $123,000 wages bill was rectified in December, Taira and JH Enterprises have signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance.

Under the terms of EU, Taira and JH Enterprises have agreed to engage an independent specialist to audit compliance with federal workplace laws, upgrade systems and processes to ensure future compliance, place a public notice in Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper detailing the contraventions and register with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s My Account portal.

James said employers need to ensure they are aware of the minimum lawful pay rates their employees are entitled to, including penalty rates.

"It's not acceptable for an employer to pay a worker a ‘going rate’ or what they think the job is worth,” she said.

“I am increasingly concerned about the number of matters where visa holders and vulnerable workers are being underpaid by culturally and linguistically diverse business owners.

“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.”

Last month, the Fair Work Ombudsman announced it had taken enforcement action against a Gold Coast business which runs a sushi factory and allied restaurant and take-away food outlets after finding it had underpaid three Japanese nationals more than $51,000 over 18 months.

In June, the Fair Work Ombudsman announced it had commenced legal proceedings against the operators of a take-away sushi outlet near Wollongong, in NSW, for allegedly underpaying three Korean visa-holders more than $51,000.

 “The Fair Work Ombudsman is striving to build a culture of compliance where businesses understand and comply with their lawful obligations,” James said.

Overseas workers on the 417 working holiday visa have emerged as a strong priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman, and their wages and conditions are the subject of a national Inquiry launched last August.

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