A MELBOURNE food wholesaler has been slapped with an $85,000 fine in Federal Circuit Court for underpaying migrant and overseas workers.
Quality Food World underpaid 46 production and packing staff almost $150,000 from its warehouse at Mordialloc, an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman has found.
The employees were mostly visa holders from non-English speaking backgrounds, and underpaid for work performed between October 2007 and March 2011.
Judge Grant Riethmuller says Quality Food World ignored its legal obligations despite Fair Work putting the company on notice in 2007.
"It is inexcusable in a situation where the business has such a large number of employees and a significant history of interaction with the Fair Work Ombudsman's office, it would not have complied with the relevant requirements," Riethmuller says.
"Most of the employees were from non-English speaking backgrounds, new to Australia, and had limited knowledge of the rights and protections afforded to them under the Australian workplace laws. Some were in Australia only on student visas.
"These breaches affected a group of employees least able to protect their own rights, and least able to locate and obtain employment in the community."
Riethmuller found a lack of genuine contrition from Quality Food World, after the business threatened Fair Work that it would 'just close the business tomorrow and sack all of the workers' if the matter went to court.
The company has now back-paid all workers it has been able to locate and will pay entitlements owing to workers it cannot find into the Fair Work Ombudsman's unclaimed wages fund.
Managers must now complete workplace relations training and provide employees with information on their rights.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the court's decision serves as a timely reminder that blatant underpayment of vulnerable workers won't be tolerated.
It follows a number of investigations underway to identify non-compliance in industries that employ overseas workers, including the 7-Eleven franchise network and a Harvest Trail into the horticulture sector.
"The Fair Work Ombudsman will also continue to work with Taskforce Cadena, the Phoenix Taskforce and other relevant state and federal agencies to share intelligence in relation to overseas workers' rights," James says.
Visa-holders now represent about 11 per cent of the total number of employees seeking assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fair Work recouped $1.6 million for visa-holders and filed 20 matters in court last financial year.
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