The former operators of two Hello Juice outlets will have to cough up nearly $277,000 in penalties for “deliberately exploiting” workers.
During 2017, a total of 27 workers at Hello Juice outlets in Geelong and Werribee were underpaid by $38,458, including ten workers who were under the age of 18.
An audit investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found workers were paid low, flat rates that led to underpayment of hourly, casual, weekend and public holiday rates as per the Fast Food Industry Award 2010.
Some workers were paid as little as $10 an hour, according to Fair Work.
The Hello Juice outlets were operated by Skypic Group and Skypac Group, owned by Victorian-based woman Hua Gong, who was individually penalised $34,616.
Hua broke laws relating to cash-back arrangements, pay slips, and record-keeping. Hua and her companies also did not comply with requests to produce documents or records, and provided false records to inspectors.
In handing down his judgement in the Federal Circuit Court, Judge John O’Sullivan said the $277,000 penalties should “act as a deterrent to others who may be minded to flout the law”.
“It is also an illustration of, an all too common, a phenomena where employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who exploit workers (including, or especially, from within their own ethnic communities) and then come before the Court and seek to rely on their own alleged ignorance of workplace laws or foreign cultural norms to mitigate any penalties that need to be applied when they are finally caught out,” he said.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the ombudsman was prioritising enforcing compliance in the fast food, restaurant, and cafe sector as it employs many vulnerable workers.
“Employers in this sector are on notice that they need to comply with workplace laws,” she said.
“The FWO expects all employers to comply with workplace obligations and they should access our free tools and resources if they need assistance. Any employees with queries about pay should contact us,” Parker said.
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