A GLORIA Jeans cafe franchise in Caulfield has been accused of underpaying their employees, including many international students. Sol Ahn reports.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has accused the owners of a cafe in Caulfield of paying their employees, including many international students, as little as $8 an hour, after investigating a complaint lodged by one of the employees.
A total of 22 employees were collectively underpaid more than $83,000 by a franchise cafe Gloria Jeans at Caufield East.
Its company directors Tsinam Fu, of Clayton and Ping Ostrovskih, of Rowville, who operate the cafe under the company name Primeage Ltd, will face the Federal Circuit Court on April 7.
Mr Fu and Ms Ostrovskih were allegedly underpaying employees $8 to $10 flat rates, including public holidays, weekend and casual loading.
Breaches of laws relating to issuing of pay slips, providing meal breaks and keeping employment records are also being alleged.
Individual amounts owing to the employees range from $45 up to $17,103, Court documents allege.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking a Court Order for the company to rectify the underpayments in full.
In response to the allegations, Mr Fu told Fairfax Media that he admitted he broke the law, but complained the minimum wage is too high.
“I just find this environment over here has become very, very hard,” he said. “I mean the minimum wage is too high because we are just a small coffee shop and we need to pay a lot of expenditure. We also have to pay a loyalty fee to our head office, and business is not very good in the past few years.”
Of the court action, Mr Fu said, “I’m not going to fight it because under the law, I think I have broken the law.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the employer’s failure to rectify the alleged underpayments – despite efforts by inspectors to resolve the matter – was a significant factor in the decision to put the matter into Court.
Ms James says the quantum of the alleged underpayment and the involvement of vulnerable workers are also significant factors.
United Voice Victoria state secretary Jess Walsh said that in both the office cleaning and food industries international students had become an invisible army of low paid, exploited workers. While many needed work to support themselves while they studied, their vulnerability meant they were prey for unscrupulous employers.
“Our surveys show that up to 80 per cent of international students have little or no knowledge of their rights at work in Australia. The fact that they don’t know about their rights when they do work makes them vulnerable to exploitation. They are paid too little, they work too long without breaks and they work often unsociable hours without compensation,” Ms Walsh said.
“We have found students employed by sub-contractors who are ripped off by up to $15,000 a year. I never stop being surprised at how widespread this mistreatment and exploitation is,” Ms Walsh added.
To reduce the fact of disadvantage on overseas workers, the Fair Work Ombudsman has established an Overseas Workers’ Team.
The Team will provide assistance to:
- Workers in Australia on temporary visas that have work rights,
- Newly-arrived migrants who may not be aware of Australia’s employment and workplace laws, and
- Newly arrived migrants who, through their visa conditions, have committed to remain with their sponsoring employer for a period of time.
A free interpreter service for those from non-English speaking backgrounds is available by calling 13 14 50. Information about workplace laws is translated into 27 different languages at www.fairwork.gov.au/languages.
With additional reporting by Diane Leow.