Tasmanian caf operator paid backpackers as little as $1.35 an hour

19 May, 2016 by
Danielle Bowling

A man who formerly operated a glass and hardware store as well as an adjacent caf and bakery has been penalised $71,910 for making bogus claims in job ads and underpaying young backpackers.

Harold William Jackson previously owned and operated Harold’s Glass and Hardware and the Rhythm & Vines caf and bakery in Queenstown. It’s alleged he exploited five backpackers aged in their 20s who travelled to Australia on 417 working holiday visas.

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Jackson enticed them with advertisement for hospitality jobs posted on Gumtree’s website and in backpacker hostels, claiming that the 88 day paid work sign-off (required for the second year of a 417 visa) was available.

Judge Terry McGuire described Jackson’s treatment of the backpackers – underpaid a total of $42,985 between July 2013 and February 2014 – as “calculated” and “callous”.

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McGuire found that once the workers arrived, Jackson required most of them to do hard physical labour, extensively underpaid them, berated and yelled at them and provided them with only “basic” accommodation and facilities.

Jackson refused to sign-off on the 88 day regional work requirement for their visas and arbitrarily sacked a number of workers, leaving “these young people actually and financially stranded”, McGuire said.

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“It is often construed that employers rue the reluctance of young Australians to take on seasonal or similar work. I comment only that such young locals might well be aware of their basic rights and the obligations of employers when considering employment and (Jackson’s) tendency to advertise in backpacker hostels was calculated accordingly.”

Jackson paid one of the backpackers, an Italian woman, just $270 for four weeks’ work – the equivalent of $1.35 an hour.

The four other backpackers – from the UK and Japan – worked for Jackson for periods ranging from one week to four months and received irregular payments equivalent to rates of between $2.43 and $5.38 an hour.

Under Australian workplace laws they were entitled to be paid more than $19 an hour for normal hours and up to $32 an hour for some weekend work. 

In total, the backpackers were variously paid between just seven and 21 percent of their lawful minimum entitlements, with individual underpayments ranging from $1,026 to $19,097.

Jackson also contravened pay-slip and record-keeping laws and instructed the backpackers to tell Fair Work inspectors that they were “volunteers” rather than employees,

“This demonstrates an understanding by the respondent of his statutory obligations and a calculated attempt to avoid and conceal them,” McGuire said.

Jackson has not yet complied with a Court Order made in January to backpay the five backpackers, adding that he had displayed “no evidence of contrition” and the penalty imposed – 75 percent of the available maximum – should deter him from similar contraventions in future.