A SURFERS Paradise restaurant has admitted to deliberately underpaying staff tens of thousands of dollars, operating on the basis that they would not be caught.
Uchouten Japanese Restaurant, located on Surfers Paradise Boulevard, told the Fair Work Ombudsman the underpayments were intentional and they hoped they would not be caught.
The workers, many in Australia on working holiday visas, were paid flat rates as low as $10 an hour to work as kitchen hands and wait on tables.
Under the Restaurant Industry Award, they should have been paid at least $21.09 for ordinary hours worked and $42.18 on public holidays.
Collectively, they were short-changed more than $31,500 and the wage fraud was discovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman when one of the workers went to the agency's Gold Coast office seeking assistance.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the restaurant's admission that it deliberately exploited vulnerable overseas workers is seriously concerning.
"Anyone running a business, including migrants, need to ensure they understand our workplace laws applicable to their business," she says.
"We will not tolerate 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.
"Migrant employers simply cannot undercut the minimum lawful entitlements of their employees based on what they think the job maybe worth, what the employee is happy to accept, what other businesses are paying or what the job may pay in their country of origin."
Uchouten Japanese Restaurant faces enforcement action and has been requested to sign an Enforceable Undertaking which require back payments of all outstanding wages and entitlements, a public apology, workplace relations training for managers, and the appointment of an external professional to audit the business' compliance with workplace laws.
James says Fair Work inspectors are increasingly finding employers from non-English speaking backgrounds who have little or no understanding of their workplace obligations, or are ignoring them.
In November, the Federal Circuit Court imposed a $73,000 penalty against the former owner of a Darwin café who exploited two Taiwanese backpackers.
In his decision, Federal Judge Stewart Brown said:
"In my view, backpackers and the like are particularly susceptible to being exploited by unscrupulous operators in the hospitality industry.
"The court has a responsibility to set penalties which will deter others from engaging in conduct which may tarnish Australia's reputation as a satisfactory place for visitors and tourists to undertake a working holiday.
"Employers in the hospitality industry need to know that they cannot exploit backpackers or other itinerant employees and expect that their behaviour, if detected by authorities, will not attract a significant penalty."
The Fair Work Ombudsman has a specialist overseas worker's team, established in mid-2012, to help combat the exploitation of overseas workers in Australia.
Visa-holders now represent around 11 per cent of the total number of employees seeing assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman.
In 2014-15, the agency recouped $1.6 million for visa-holders and filed 20 matters in court involving visa-holders.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is currently conducting a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa.
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