Gold Coast restaurant fined $280,000 for “heinous” exploitation of vulnerable workers

This week a Court has imposed penalties of more than $284,000 on a Gold Coast restaurant for systematic underpayments of overseas workers.

In addition to paying flat rates between $8 and $11, the Restaurant falsified records in an attempt to cover up the ongoing exploitation of employees on working holiday visas.

The conduct described as “heinous” by Judge Vasta was exposed during an audit campaign and subsequent investigation by Fair Work Ombudsman.  Judge Vasta described the actions of the restaurant as “certainly deliberate” and the Ombudsman welcomed the decision to impose near maximum penalties of $280,000.

Similarly in August we saw record penalties of $660,000 ordered. This came after another FWO investigation revealed deliberate underpayments of vulnerable workers at a Melbourne fruit market.

These cases act as a timely reminder to comply with obligations under workplace laws. This is particularly so given the Vulnerable Workers Legislation passed in September giving the Ombudsman increased investigation powers and substantially increasing civil penalties.

The record penalties occurred before the Vulnerable Workers Legislation. However the cases demonstrate how seriously courts take behavior involving the exploitation of workers who are stripped of minimum entitlements.

In addition to the reputational damage, the most significant point to highlight is both individual and company penalties apply. Individuals found to be involved in or aware of breaches will find themselves faced with substantial fines.

Given how tightly regulated Australia’s industrial relations system is, business owners must know their obligations under workplace laws. Turning a blind eye or paying migrant workers “the going rate” will be no excuse when the FWO is knocking on your door.

For assistance in navigating Australia’s industrial relations system, clients should contact the Telephone Advisory Team on (02) 9083 0000. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client and protecting your business contact us today for an informal chat.