Melbourne restaurant fined over exploitation of foreign worker

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 5th April 2012

The operators of a suburban Melbourne restaurant have been fined AU$72,000 for exploiting a cook recruited from India.

The Federal Magistrates Court imposed the penalty following an investigation and litigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Taj Palace Tandoori Indian Restaurant Pty Ltd, which operates a restaurant of the same name on Nicholson Street, Footscray, has been fined AU$60,000. Restaurant manager and part-owner Nathi Singh Rawat, of Sydenham, has been fined a further AU$12,000.

The restaurant sponsored the cook, an Indian man in his 30s who spoke little English, to come to Australia on a 457 work visa. He was paid a flat rate of $752 a week, often working 60 to 70 hours, including nights and weekends.

The cook was underpaid his minimum hourly rate, shift allowances, annual leave entitlements and penalty rates for overtime, night, weekend and public holiday work.

Over a 10-month period in 2008-9 he was underpaid a total of AU$24,217.

Federal Magistrate Grant Riethmuller found that the employee was vulnerable and it was likely that his ability to understand and exercise his rights would have been hampered.

“A feature of Australian society that is particularly attractive to immigrants from around the world is the Industrial Law system that attempts to ensure fair wages and working conditions for employees,” Federal Magistrate Riethmuller said.

“The employee in this case was more vulnerable than the average Australian worker as his visa was conditional upon his employment, and he came from a country where wages and working conditions are very poor.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman first investigated the matter when the employee lodged a complaint in 2009. The restaurant back-paid the employee’s outstanding entitlements in 2010.

The Fair Work Ombudsman also found that restaurant had failed to keep proper employment records and issue pay slips to the employee.

In his judgment on the case, Federal Magistrate Riethmuller re-iterated the importance of employers complying with their obligations. “The need to ensure compliance, particularly with respect to vulnerable workers, such as those on work visas, those who come to Australia without strong language skills, and those with little education, is crucial to a just society and the avoidance of exploitation,” he said.

“Proper pay slips allow employees to understand how their pay is calculated and therefore easily obtain advice. Pay slips provide the most practical check on false record-keeping and underpayments and allow for genuine mistakes or misunderstandings to quickly be identified.”