A fruit market operator has been hit with an eye-watering record $660,000 penalty for wage theft.
It is the largest court-ordered penalty ever imposed for wage theft as a result of litigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fruit market operator hit with record penalty
Abdulrahman Taleb is the former owner-operator of the Sunshine Fruit Market in Melbourne.
The Federal Circuit Court penalised him $16,020 and his company Mhoney Pty Ltd an additional $644,000.
The wage theft
Taleb ignored multiple warnings from Fair Work to pay proper wages and entitlements.
He subsequently refused to pay an Afghani refugee any wages for weeks in early 2012, and then paid a flat rate of $10 an hour to a maximum of $120 per day.
The relevant award stipulates hourly rates of $17 for normal hours, up to $35 on weekends and up to $43 on public holidays
The wage theft totalled $25,588.
Fruit market operator took advantage of worker
Judge Philip Burchardt described the underpayments as “significant”.
“This was an egregious underpayment. It gave the respondents an unfair advantage in the competitive retail industry.”
The worker initially came to Australia as an asylum seeker and spent time in detention.
The federal government later released him and granted him 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.
Taleb failed to provide required meal breaks, despite making the man work more than 12-hours a day.
The business also contravened a range of record-keeping and pay slip laws.
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Meanwhile, industrial advocate Miles Heffernan said government must make wage theft a crime.
“If ever there was an argument for criminal sanctions for wage theft, this case is it,” he said.
“Mr Taleb has engaged in deliberate and egregious theft of his worker’s wages. That is stealing, so therefore, he should face criminal stealing charges.
“Until governments toughen up legislation, then this sort of appalling conduct will continue.”
Contempt of court
In addition to the record penalties, Judge Burchardt also ordered an injunction against Taleb.
The injunction prevents him from contravening the award in addition to the National Employment Standards again.
If he does so, he will face criminal contempt of court charges as a result.
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