The former operators of a Canberra massage parlour are facing legal action, accused of stealing more than $900,000 from their workers, and threatening to have their families in the Philippines killed if they complained to authorities.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is seeking court orders requiring the employer to back pay the workers in full and to pay additional compensation for the loss and damage they have allegedly suffered.
Colin Elvin, who once owned the ‘foot&thai’ massage parlour in Belconnen, along with supervisor Jun Puerto, are facing the Federal Court for allegedly exploiting seven Filipino workers over three and a half years.
They allegedly underpaid the workersa total of $912,809, and subjected them to coercion, discrimination and adverse action.
Individual workers were allegedly underpaid amounts ranging from $11,263 to $149,557.
Workers recruited in Philippines
The six women and one man were allegedly recruited in the Philippines by Mr Elvin’s company, and promised annual salaries of $52,000, but once in Australia they were allegedly made to work 65 to 68 hours a week, and paid for just 38.
Some of the employees were also allegedly forced to pay back $800 of their wages every fortnight when Mr Elvin deemed the business was not generating enough income.
The workers were transported to and from the massage parlour in a van each working day from accommodation that had gates that were locked overnight to stop them from leaving.
It is also alleged that both Mr Elvin and Mr Puerto told the workers that Mr Elvin would arrange to have their families in the Philippines killed if they complained about their working conditions.
The Federal police investigated the matter, but did not lay criminal charges.
Shocking case of exploitation
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, said the case was a shocking example of worker exploitation.
“If the allegations are proven, you have wage theft, discrimination and coercion all in one – what a disgusting way to treat vulnerable overseas workers,” he said.
“And to threaten the lives of their families if they complained, well, how low can you get.”
Fair Work also alleges discrimination
In addition to the alleged underpayments, the unlawful coercion, and adverse action, Fair Work also alleges that the conduct of Mr Elvin and Mr Puerto amounted to workplace discrimination against the employees because of their race and/or national extraction and/or social origin.
“If these allegations are proven, I hope these two men and their company are hit with the maximum penalties possible,” Mr Heffernan said.
Fair Work is seeking penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention for foot & thai massage and up to $10,800 per contravention against Mr Elvin and Mr Puerto for the multiple alleged contraventions of workplace laws.
The matter is listed in the Federal Court this month.
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