The former operator of a Sydney caf has been penalised $16,830 for underpaying an overseas worker, despite threatening to bankrupt his company is legal action was taken.

Arthur Antonopoulos and his company Blu Hornsby previously operated Wild Sage Caf at Sydney’s Cammeray and told the Fair Work Ombudsman “You can’t get blood out of a stone” once he closed the business.

Despite this, Antonopoulos and Blu Hornsby have reimbursed the employee more than $22,000 in outstanding wages and entitlements.

The Federal Circuit Court last week imposed a penalty of $2,805 against Antonopoulos and $14,025 against his company.

The matter relates to an Indian national who was underpaid a total of $22,329 in minimum wages and penalty rates when employed by Blu Hornsby as a pastry chef between November 2012 and May 2014. She was in her early 20s at the time.

Initially in Australia as an international student, the employee was later sponsored by Blu Hornsby on a 457 skilled worker visa.

She was at first reluctant to raise concerns about her wages because she was reliant on Antonopoulos’ support for her visa to remain in Australia. However, after her employment ended, the employee lodged a request for assistance with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Legal proceedings commenced after Antonopoulos and Blu Hornsby failed to adhere to a Compliance Notice requiring prompt back-payment of the employee.

Judge Justin Smith found that the conduct was deliberate.

“Particularly important to my consideration is the need to ensure that other employers are aware that, if they do not propose to seek review of a Contravention Notice, they must comply with it or face a significant penalty,” Smith said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said she’s determined to hold companies and their directors to account if they flout workplace laws and then refuse to co-operate with the agency to rectify underpayment of vulnerable workers.

“Where we are unable to secure back-pay from the direct employer, for example, where the corporate entity folds or has insufficient funds, we will look to all other avenues available to us to put unpaid wages back into the hands of workers,” she said.

“Where a party other than the employer has played a role in the exploitation of workers, we will consider whether the law can make them legally responsible.”

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