Sydney telecommunications company fined $54,000 for underpaying two workers

11 July 2010

A Sydney telecommunications company has been fined $54,000 for underpaying two former workers more than $30,000.

The company’s office manager has also been fined $8500 for his involvement in the underpayments.

The penalties were handed down in the NSW Chief Industrial Magistrate’s Court in Sydney following a prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Chief Industrial Magistrate Gregory Hart imposed a $54,000 fine against Lightfield Investments Pty Ltd and $8500 against office manager, Hoong Kee Tang.

Chief Industrial Magistrate Hart also ordered the company to back-pay the workers $13,135 and $12,377 respectively, plus interest of $2364 and $2227.

Lightfield, which operated out of both Sydney and Melbourne, did not pay the two workers anything for nearly four months work.

Both employees were from non-English speaking backgrounds, one only recently arrived from China with very little understanding of English.

“Such employees are particularly vulnerable and readily exploited,” Chief Industrial Magistrate says in his decision.

“In this case, both employees worked for a period of several months without receiving any pay whatsoever. They were induced to continue working by repeated assurances … to the effect that their back-pay would be made available in the near future.”

Handing down his decision, Chief Industrial Magistrate Hart said: “I find there is a need for a strong general deterrence factor and a strong specific deterrence factor.”

He said a penalty was required to “convey clearly to employers that serious and blatant unlawful conduct calculated to damage and exploit vulnerable employees will be met with serious penalties”.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleged that Lightfield had committed a number of breaches of workplace law relating to under-payment of the minimum wage, the refusal to pay workers in a timely fashion and non-payment of annual leave entitlements.

Fair Work Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell says the Agency will take decisive action against employers who exploit foreign workers.

“Strong and persistent messages need to be sent to employers that both deter this type of behaviour and reinforce the fact that exploitative practices will not be tolerated,” he said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has a number of tools on its website, www.fwo.gov.au, to assist employees and employers check minimum rates of pay, including PayCheck, Payroll Check and a Pay Rate Calculator.

Small to medium sized businesses without human resources staff can also ensure they are better equipped when hiring, managing and dismissing employees by using free template employment documentation with step-by-step instructions or accessing a series of Best Practice Guides

Employers or employees seeking assistance should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or visit www.fwo.gov.au. For translations call 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Craig Bildstien, Director, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
0419 818 484
craig.bildstien@fwo.gov.au

Richard Honey, Adviser, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
(03) 9954 2716, 0457 924 146
richard.honey@fwo.gov.au

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