A Malaysian couple operating Japanese restaurants in Australia is now facing charges for exploiting their workers who are fellow immigrants.
Facing more than AUD $200,000 ($152,700) in penalties, migrant business owners Lee Wee Song and Siew Lay Yeoh were accused of underpaying their five Malaysian and Taiwanese visa-holding employees.
The workers, who work at Teppanyaki Lovers and Nigi Nigi in the Brisbane central business district, and Ku-O were paid as little as $7.63 per hour, which was way below Australia’s minimum wage which is $13.50 per hour.
According to SBS, the workers held student, bridging and partner visas. Between November 2011 and October 2014, each of them was reportedly paid between $10,592 to $34,477.
The judge who imposed the penalties in the Federal Circuit Court found the case disturbing, considering the fact that the couple exploited employees of a similar cultural background.
In a statement, Judge Salvatore Vasta said:
“It would seem that if someone from a particular culture comes to Australia and is employed by somebody else from the same background, there would be an automatic level of trust and comfort in that fact.”
He noted that as business owners, it was their responsibility to ensure that their employees were given fair and just treatment.
“There is an obligation on them to ensure that workers from a similar culture to the employers are not exploited,” Justice Vasta added.
In a press release, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James expressed that overseas workers are also entitled to the same pay as Australians.
“I am increasingly concerned about the number of employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are exploiting workers from within their own ethnic communities,” she said.
“Overseas workers are entitled to the same wages as Australian citizens and we are actively seeking to dispel the myth that it’s OK to pay overseas workers a ‘going rate’ that undercuts the lawful minimum wage rates that apply in Australia.”
Song and Yeoh were individually fined $30,905 and $24,717, respectively, while their companies Tsuyoetsu Pty Ltd and Taikuken Pty Ltd were penalized $75,524 and $22,275, respectively. During the proceedings, the owners claimed they had little business experience in Australia and did not know about the business rules in the country.
Justice Vasta found their excuse a bit hard to believe.
“I don’t accept that as being a true state of affairs,” the judge was quoted as saying. “At the very best for [Mr Song], one could say that he was acting with a large degree of willful blindness as to what his obligations were.”