A Gold Coast restaurant’s operators have been penalised more than $284,000 and criticised by a Judge for their “heinous” conduct after paying overseas workers as little as $8 an hour and using false records to try to cover it up.

Judge Salvatore Vasta of the Federal Circuit Court slapped a $38,000 penalty on Shigeo Ishiyama and another $246,400 on his company, Samurais Paradise Pty Ltd.

The penalties, imposed in the Federal Circuit Court, are the result of an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Ishiyama and his company underpaid nine employees a total of $59,080 over a period of just four months in 2015.

The court established that:

  • Most of the nine workers were Japanese citizens in their 20s, who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas.
  • They performed various cooking and waiting duties at the two restaurants.
  • They were underpaid a total of $59,080 over a period of four months in 2015, or a flat rate of $8 to $11 an hour for all hours worked.
  • Under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 at the time, the employees were entitled to minimum hourly rates of up to $18.47 and penalty rates ranging from $26.03 to $46.18 for weekend and public holiday work. Other loadings and allowances were also underpaid.
  • In 2015, the Fair Work Ombudsman asked Ishiyama and his company to provide pay records for the two restaurants; there was then a campaign targeting Gold Coast restaurants and fast food outlets.
  • Inspectors warned them not to fabricate time-and-wages records if they didn’t exist.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman discovering some underpayments in the records provided. Inspectors educated Ishiyama on his obligations under workplace laws and his company made back-payments to employees.
  • The company then provided records purporting to show that all employees were now being paid correctly, after the owner had been educated of his obligations.
  • With the help of some workers, Fair Work inspectors followed up on the company and discovered it had provided false records on two occasions.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says any businesses found to be breaching record-keeping laws run the risk of receiving even higher penalties in the future.

“Using false records in attempt to get away with underpaying workers is an insidious practice. Without adequate records in can sometimes be difficult for Fair Work Inspectors to accurately calculate a worker’s entitlements,” Ms James said.

“We welcome the court’s decision to impose near maximum penalties in this case, it is a reflection of the serious nature of this behaviour.

Ms James says she is increasingly concerned about the number of employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are underpaying workers from within their own ethnic communities.

“This case is another chance to make it clear that lawful minimum rates apply to all employees in Australia and they are not negotiable,” she said.

“We are actively seeking to dispel the myth that it’s OK to pay overseas workers a ‘going rate’ that undercuts the lawful minimum wage rates that apply in Australia.

“The wealth of free advice and educational material on our website – including in 30 different languages – and availability of our small business helpline means there is no excuse for mistakes, regardless of an employer’s background.”

Michael Browning

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