A court has penalised the owners of two Gold Coast restaurants $225,500 for paying a worker as little as $2.30 an hour.
Federal Circuit and Family Court judge Salvatore Vasta also criticised the owners for attempting to cover up wage theft using false documents.
Gold Coast restaurant owners penalised
Judge Vasta penalised Fu Kang GC Pty Ltd $190,000.
He also penalised it’s two two directors, Ms Yingchun “Christine” Wang and Mr Liangtao “Frank” Zhao, (pictured) $23,000 and $12,500 respectively.
The pair previously operated the now closed Fu Kang Gold Coast Chinese Restaurant in Labrador and Memory Taste of Fu Kang in Southport.
The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced an investigation following a wage theft complaint from an employee.
The company sponsored the man in a 457 skilled visa to work as a cook at the restaurants.
He cleverly kept a diary and recorded all the hours that he worked in addition to the amounts Wang and Zhao paid him.
Those records showed he worked between 22 and 87 hours a week during an eight month period and received cash payments of between $200 and $600.
The wage amounted to between $2.30 and $12.85 per hour.
In total, the wage theft amounted to more than $46,000.
Furthermore, Wang and Zhao provided false and misleading records to Fair Work inspectors in an attempt to cover up the underpayments.
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Exploitation of vulnerable worker
Judge Vasta said the company “took advantage” of a vulnerable worker.
“There is an element of exploitation that colours this case. [The employee] was a vulnerable person in that he relied upon [Fu Kang] for his ability to be in this country.
“[Fu Kang] took advantage of that reliance by contravening the [Fair Work] Act in a manner which it is unlikely that it would have dared to perpetrate if the employee was not a vulnerable Visa holder.”
Judge Vasta also described the “attempt to cover” the underpayments by providing false documents as “brazen” which needed a high penalty.
New wage theft laws
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from IR Claims said he is not surprised by the penalties.
“This is a blatant case of worker exploitation which deserves severe penalties,” he said.
“It also makes a mockery of arguments by employer groups that wage theft happens as the result of innocent mistakes by employers.”
Mr Heffernan said recent changes to Queensland law now make wage theft a criminal offence in addition to making it easier for workers to recover their stolen wages.
“Workers who are not being paid their proper wages and entitlements should get in touch, because we can take immediate action to help them recover what they are owed,” he said.
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