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Hero Sushi has copped a record $891,000 fine for wage theft after workers were paid as little as $12 an hour

Jack Derwin
  • Three Hero Susi franchises have been found underpaying 91 staff by a little over $700,000.
  • The employees, many of whom are migrant workers, were paid as little as $12 an hour in cash, with the owners saying it was an effort "to stay competitive".
  • Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Flick then said documents had been falsified to try to conceal the wrongdoing, handing down $891,000 in fines, the largest ever penalty as a result of litigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Another day, another case of Australian hospitality workers getting shortchanged.

On Monday, the Federal Court found three Hero Sushi franchises – in Canberra Centre, Westfield Kotara in Newcastle, and Australia Fair on the Gold Coast – guilty of underpaying workers to the tune of $700,000.

"This is a case about greed and the exploitation of the vulnerable," Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Flick said, handing down a record $891,000 fine.

"Those in a position to ruthlessly take advantage of others pursued their goal of seeking to achieve greater profits at the expense of employees."

Many of those 94 employees shafted were international students and visa workers, who had been underpaid in cash by owners Deuk Hee Lee and Hokun Hwang.

"[We] decided that we would offer our employees a minimum of $12 per hour in cash so that we can be more competitive in the industry," Lee told the court.

Both were hit with $85,000 fines, while three bookkeepers in Hero Sushi's head office – Chang Seok “Tommy” Lee, Ji Won “Brian” Cho and Jung Sun “Jimmy” Kim – copped fines ranging from $16,000 to $75,000 for falsifying records.

"A great number of false documents were deliberately and repeatedly created with a view to concealing the fraud being perpetrated. Lies were told to cover up the wrongdoing," Flick said.

"It was only when the game was up that those responsible admitted their misdeeds."

The franchises were caught out in a 2016 Fair Work Ombudsman audit. The fines combined with $600,000 in corporate penalties are the largest ever handed down as a result of Fair Work litigation.

"This matter should serve as a warning for all businesses that underpay migrant workers, who may be particularly vulnerable if they have language barriers or be reluctant to seek help due to their visa status," Fair Work Ombudsman Sarah Parker said.

"Any workers with concerns about their pay should contact us."

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