The operators of a Melbourne service station have been fined more than $92,000 for underpaying two Indian workers as little as $10 an hour.
The console operators at the BP service station on Clyde Road at Berwick were underpaid more than $111,800 between 2008 and 2012. They were paid flat rates ranging from $10 to $17 an hour, resulting in underpayment of their minimum hourly rates, casual loadings and penalty rates for overtime, weekend and public holiday work.
The workers lodged requests for assistance with the Fair Work Ombudsman after repeated inquiries to their employer about their pay rates were stonewalled.
After Fair Work inspectors investigated, Liquid Fuel rectified the underpayments, back-paying the workers $58,584 and $53,290 respectively.
However, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says a decision was made to commence legal action because of the blatant nature of the underpayments and the involvement of vulnerable overseas workers.
Following this legal action, service station operator Liquid Fuel Pty Ltd has been fined $79,537 by the Federal Circuit Court.
Husband-and-wife managers Xin Zhang and Linda Qu have also each been fined $4,504 and a penalty of $3,861 was imposed against company director Nian Li, who is Ms Qu’s father.
Judge John O’Sullivan found the case was a “very serious matter” and that there was a need for penalties to deter the respondents and other employers from similar conduct in future.
“The conduct cannot be regarded as isolated and the period of time over which it occurred is also serious,” he said. “The respondents’ actions were, at the very least, reckless and show a disregard for their obligations.”
Ms James says the penalties send a clear message that exploitation of minimum wage employees – particularly those from overseas – is serious conduct and that significant consequences apply.
“There are a minority of rogue employers that need to get the message that exploitation of these workers is unlawful and unacceptable conduct,” she said.
Ms James said it was also of concern that separate to the legal action, Liquid Fuel had reimbursed $113,000 to six other employees who had been underpaid between 2007 and 2013.
Formal allegations of non-compliance with the Fair Work Ombudsman from overseas workers have increased steadily in recent years to more than 2,100 last financial year.
Allegations received from overseas workers were highest in Queensland (28 per cent), NSW (25 per cent) and Victoria (22 per cent).
Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 131 394.