Former Melbourne restaurant owner slapped with $180,000 fine

Posted by Editorial on 14th May 2009

The operators of a former Melbourne restaurant which paid a full-time cook less than $10,000 for 18 months’ work have been fined more than $180,000.The Federal Workplace Ombudsman prosecuted businessman Poh Meng Hong for underpaying staff at his former Malaysian restaurant at Box Hill.

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday, Magistrate Kate Hawkins imposed a $158,400 penalty against Penang Kayu Nasi Kander Pty Ltd, which formerly traded as Kayu@Boxhill. The Court also handed down a $25,000 penalty against Hong, a restaurant co-owner, of Warranwood.

The company and Hong admitted to 11 breaches of workplace laws.

A full-time cook was underpaid $76,000 and two casual 19-year-old waitresses were short-changed $4876 and $899 respectively. The underpayments occurred between 2005 to 2007.

Workplace Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell says Hong admitted arranging to bring the cook, a Malaysian national, to Melbourne to work in his restaurant and then paid him just $9650 for 18 months work.

“This was less than 12 per cent of the minimum amount the man was entitled to receive,” Mr Campbell explained. “This sort of blatant exploitation is completely unacceptable and the court has sent a strong message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.”

Magistrate Hawkins said the underpayments were “staggering”, “defied belief” and that Hong had displayed a “grievous disregard” for workplace law.

She said the Malaysian cook was particularly vulnerable because of his immigration status and was subjected to a “pattern of exploitation”.

Penang Kayu Nasi Kander Pty Ltd back-paid the cook $10,600 and the two waitresses a combined total of $805 after the Workplace Ombudsman began its investigation in 2007.

Magistrate Hawkins has ordered the company to back-pay the cook $65,341 still outstanding and another $4128 and $841 to the waitresses.