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Crackdown on Asian grocers and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne CBD

Sumisha Naidu

Thu Aug 18 2011


THE Fair Work Ombudsman has cracked down on Japanese restaurants and Asian grocers in Melbourne, recovering more than $150,000 in underpaid wages and entitlements for 134 employees, many of whom are Asian nationals and international students.

An Ombudsman audit program finalised in June this year revealed 24 out of 32 employers in the CBD and Malvern East areas had not met their workplace obligations, with many of them paying staff below minimum wage and neglecting to award penalty rates.

Australian Federation for International Students president Manjula Karunathilake said this was not surprising.

“One of the first things that international students will do here is seek out opportunities in their own communities because it will be easier for them to get work this way rather than try to explore (options with) other nationalities,”she said.

“Often, they end up getting exploited by their own people.

“It is quite a common thing that we have come across so many times.”

The Ombudsman believed employers had not intentionally mistreated their workers but were unaware  of their obligations under Commonwealth workplace laws.

A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson said young workers needed to educate themselves to prevent further violations from occurring.

“We are conscious that young workers are often reliant on minimum pay rates and can be vulnerable if they are not aware of their workplace rights,” he said.

But a young Asian grocery worker said he was fine with his wages despite recently discovering he was being underpaid.

“I’m not too concerned about the money,” he said.

“(What matters is) the people who run the store don’t treat me badly and they don’t overwork me.”

Are you being underpaid? Find out using the Fair Work Ombudsman’s PayCheck site.

The Ombudsman’s findings were the second blow to employers in the last month following the government’s  announcement on July 21 that stricter penalties would be introduced for employers who hired illegal workers.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship national communications manager Siobhan Logan would not say if the new penalties, based on a recommendation by independent legal expert Stephen Howell, would help reduce international student exploitation.

“What we’re trying to do is prevent employers from hiring illegal workers,” she said.

“The Howells report is about the sanctions that apply to employers who hire illegal workers, regardless of what type of visa they hold.”

Did you know?

  • Unpaid work trials are generally unlawful
  • You should get a pay slip within a day of being paid
  • You should keep your own record of shift hours, meal breaks and pay
  • Your boss can’t deduct money from your wages if customers leave without paying or if the cash register is short
  • You should be paid for all hours you work
  • Your employment can’t be terminated for asking your employer about your pay and entitlements, or for contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman
  • Your employer must take tax out of your pay, even if you are paid cash in hand.