$335K in penalties for underpaying convenience workers

The FWO has secured $335,664 in penalties for the underpayment of convenience workers at two businesses in central Melbourne.

The Fair Work Ombudsman penalised two individuals for underpaying workers at a 7-Eleven franchise on William Street. It also penalised a Japanese restaurant in the same area.

The federal circuit court penalised Xia Jing Qi Pty Ltd, which operated the 7-Eleven outlet until March 2017, $154,225. The company made three international students repay part of their wages in an illegal cashback scheme.

The FWO penalised the company a further $145,800 for underpaying a migrant worker at an Ajisen Ramen franchise in the Melbourne Central shopping centre.

Former manager Ai Ling “Irene” Lin will have to pay $9,590 for her involvement in the 7-Eleven breaches. The company’s director, Jing Qi Xia, will have to pay $26,049 for her involvement in the restaurant breaches.

The three workers underpaid at the 7-Eleven store were all from China. They were between 21 and 24 years old while employed at the company.

Ms Lin, from Taiwan, was in Australia on a student visa. She tried to disguise the underpayments by requiring the workers to pay back thousands of dollars in wages.

‘Particularly egregious’

In her judgment, Judge Norah Hartnett said the cashback scheme at the 7-Eleven store was “particularly egregious”.

“It involved a deception of 7-Eleven head office and circumvented attempts by head office to stamp out the underpayment of employees by 7-Eleven franchisees,” Judge Hartnett said.

In relation to Ajisen Ramen, Judge Hartnett said the conduct of the company and Ms Xia was “deliberate and grave”.

“It was only in circumstances where the (FWO) had independently uncovered the truth that the (company and Ms Xia) admitted to the underpayments,” she said.

Zero tolerance

Acting FWO Kristen Hannah says employers who exploit migrant workers will face serious legal consequences.

“The FWO will not tolerate any employers requiring any workers to pay back any of their wages,” she said. “This cashback scheme was particularly deplorable. It undercut migrant workers, who can be vulnerable due to language and cultural barriers, or are reluctant to speak up.

“All workers in Australia have the same rights at work, regardless of citizenship.

“We have an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs where visa holders can contact us for help without fear of their visa being cancelled.”

Employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations in the workplace. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

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