A Brisbane restaurant operator has been penalised $204,000 for wage theft and for falsifying records to cover it up.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court described the conduct as “brazen”.
Brisbane restaurant operator penalised
Ruchika Sharma and her company, Riddhi Siddhi Pty Ltd, ran three Vege Rama fast-food outlets across Brisbane.
She also ran an associated commercial kitchen in Fortitude Valley.
Firstly, the court penalised Sharma $19,000 and then her company an additional $185,000.
The wage theft
The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced an investigation as a result of a wage theft complaint by a casual kitchen hand.
The Nepalese visa holder worked for the company from April 2018 to August 2019.
Sharma required the kitchen hand to work up to 66 hours a week and paying them just $11 to $13 an hour.
In an attempt to later cover up the wage theft, Sharma provided false time and pay records to Fair Work inspectors.
She also provided the worker with false pay slips.
Moreover, Sharma ignored a Compliance Notice requiring her to calculate and back-pay the underpayments to the worker.
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Wage theft difficult to detect
Judge Salvatore Vasta said the wage theft was difficult to detect – only made possible, thanks to the “good sense” of the worker.
“If it were not for the employee having the sense to take photographs of each of the time sheets, if it were not for the employee going to work via public transport and using a go card, and if it were not for the employee having a Google phone that was able to GPS-track his movements for over six months, the scheme, or device, used by (Riddhi Siddhi and Ms Sharma) would never have unravelled as it has now.”
In imposing the penalty, Judge Vasta was scathing of Sharma’s conduct.
He described the falsified records as an “attempt to obfuscate the truth” to try and prevent any proper investigation.
“The severity and seriousness of what (Riddhi Siddhi and Ms Sharma) have done cannot be overstated,” he said.
“This was a deception that went to the heart of the fair industrial and employment system of this country.”
Judge Vasta also said the huge penalty is a deterrent to others tempted to pervert the “proper balance between the rights of employers and the rights of employees”.
“The Courts will simply not tolerate such brazen contraventions of the intentions of the Commonwealth Parliament,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sharma and her company back-paid the worker $59,400, plus interest and superannuation as a result of Fair Work’s legal action.
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