A boss who deliberately ignored warnings about paying proper wages and subsequently refused to pay a refugee worker any wages for weeks has been hit with the largest penalty ever imposed as a result of court action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Abdulrahman Taleb, the former owner-operator of the Sunshine Fruit Market in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine was penalised $16,020 and his company Mhoney Pty Ltd $644,000 in the Federal Circuit Court.
The total of the penalties is a breathtaking $660,020.
“With a penalty that big, you would hope that this low life employer will think twice before exploiting a vulnerable worker again,” industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from WAGETHEFT.net.au said.
Worker paid little or nothing for weeks
The worker, an Afghani refugee, was employed to stack fruit and vegetables at the market.
He was paid nothing for a number of weeks in early 2012, and was later paid a flat rate of $10 an hour to a maximum of $120 per day.
He should have been paid hourly rates of $17 for normal hours, up to $35 on weekends and up to $43 on public holidays under the General Retail Industry Award 2010.
The company also failed to pay overtime rates.
In total, the worker was underpaid $25,588.
Company took advantage of the worker
“The underpayments were so significant that the total not paid to [the worker] was, in relative terms, enormous for such a short time. Judge Philip Burchardt said in his judgement.
“Furthermore, for some of the time [he] was simply not paid at all.
“This was an egregious underpayment. It gave the respondents an unfair advantage in the competitive retail industry.”
Worker was vulnerable
The worker initially came to Australia as an asylum seeker and spent time in detention before being released in late 2010 and granted Australian residency.
“[The worker] was a vulnerable employee in that he was a recent arrival to Australia and totally lacked fluency in English, and could reasonably be understood to be most unlikely to be aware of any entitlements at law,” Judge Burchardt said.
The worker was not provided with the required meal breaks, despite sometimes working more than 12 hours a day.
The company was found to have contravened a range of record-keeping and pay slip laws.
Rogue employers should face criminal prosecution
“Employers like this deserve to face criminal sanctions,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Although the penalty is certainly impressive, we believe that bosses who commit serious wage theft should face criminal prosecution, including convictions and even jail time.”
In addition to the record penalties, Judge Burchardt ordered an injunction against Mr Taleb preventing him from contravening the Award and the National Employment Standards.
The injunction means Mr Taleb could face contempt of court proceedings for any further contraventions proven in court.
$299 Wage Theft Check
WAGETHEFT.net.au is offering a new service for workers who believe they have been underpaid.
For $299, the firm will get hold of a worker’s pay records and calculate any underpayments, whether they involve minimum hourly rates, overtime and penalty rates, allowances, loadings or superannuation.
The worker will then be provided with a detailed report and advice on how to go about recovering the money.
If you have not received your proper wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our specialist team at WAGETHEFT.net.au on
1300 1 THEFT (1300 184 338)
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