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Melbourne fruit shop busted paying teenager just $10 an hour

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The operators of a Melbourne business has copped $243,000 in penalties for systematically underpaying workers and not keeping proper records.

The Federal Circuit Court ruled this week that A&S Wholesale Fruit and Vegetables Pty Ltd must pay $200,000 in penalties.

In addition, director Stephen Fanous was ordered to pay $30,000 and operations manager Etherah Louli $13,000.

The court heard that between 2012 and 2014, the company short-changed three staff members to the tune of $132,956 by paying them flat rates between $10 and $18.52 an hour.

"For two of the employees there was an ‘off the books’ and ‘on the books’ payment system for certain hours or periods of their employment," stated the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Two of the staff worked at a retail fruit and vegetable shop in the Chirnside Shopping Centre, and the third was at retail florist businesses in Fountain Gate, Parkmore and Dandenong.

One of the staff at Chirnside worked an average of 65 hours a week but was underpaid for all of it, including getting just $10 an hour cash-in-hand for all hours above 76 in a fortnight.

The court ruled that this staffer was made to work unreasonable hours, as well as being underpaid.

The other staffer at Chirnside was aged just 16 when she started working, and was paid just $10 an hour for all hours.

The company made up for the underpayments when court action was started by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

"We have no tolerance for employers who think they can choose to pay workers a flat rate of pay that undercuts a worker's minimum entitlements, or who try to hide it with unlawful 'off the books' practices," Ombudsman Sandra Parker said.

Judge John O'Sullivan labelled the business' actions as “serious” and the underpayments “substantial”.

"The [company]'s failure to make proper records, keep[ing of] false employment records and failure to make timely provision of accurate pay slips to the employees, undermines the utility and fundamental objectives of the [Fair Work] Act," he said.

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