Court action over alleged underpayment of foreign workers in Tasmania

26 January 2013

Note: Reference to prosecution in this media release is a general reference to the FWO commencing proceedings for the imposition of civil penalties and should not be taken to be a reference to criminal proceedings.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched prosecution action against the operators of four Japanese restaurants in Tasmania, alleging 50 employees at the restaurants - including many young foreign workers - were underpaid more than $100,000.

Facing Court are Launceston men Kazuhiro Kojima and Zhicheng Zhang, who own and operate ‘Bento Box’ restaurants in Launceston and Devonport and the Wan Japanese Restaurant in Launceston.

Also facing Court is Bento Kings Meadows Pty Ltd, which operates the Bento Kings Meadows restaurant in Launceston. Mr Kojima and Mr Zhang are directors and part-owners of the company.

It is alleged that 50 employees across the four restaurants were underpaid a total of $105,738 in 2010 and 2011. The employees were predominantly young foreign nationals from Asia, including some who spoke limited English.

The employees included a number of international students who performed food preparation, customer service, cleaning and cooking duties.

It is alleged that many of the employees were paid flat rates as low as $5 to $10 an hour, resulting in significant underpayment of their minimum hourly rates and non-payment of penalty rates for weekend, evening and public holiday work.

Breaches relating to keeping employment records and pay slips are also alleged.  The Fair Work Ombudsman audited the restaurants in 2011.

It is alleged that some back-payments have been made but that a significant proportion of the alleged underpayments remains outstanding.

Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, said the decision to prosecute reflected the significant amount of alleged underpayment involved for vulnerable workers.

Maximum penalties per breach range up to $6600 for individuals and $33,000 for corporations. Those penalties have increased to $10,200 and $51,000 respectively for offences committed from 28 December 2012.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking court orders for the underpayments of the employees to be rectified in full. 

A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Magistrates Court in Hobart on February 27. 

Employers and workers seeking assistance can visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. For an interpreter service, call 13 14 50.

Media inquiries: 08 8225 8263 (all hours)

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