Real estate agent counselled on workplace obligations after paying visa-holder $9 hr

7 July 2016

A real estate agent in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn has received extensive advice and assistance about its workplace obligations after paying a visa-holder just $9 an hour.

The business has also agreed to back-pay the 28-year-old Chinese worker $5000 after the Fair Work Ombudsman found he was being underpaid.

The employee, who was on a 485 temporary graduate visa, was paid less than $375 a week for duties including drafting contracts, general administration and assisting buyers.

He sought assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman after reading about Australia's minimum wage and trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issue with his employer.

When contacted by the Fair Work Ombudsman, the business operator believed that the employee was being correctly paid as an intern.

However, the Fair Work Ombudsman explained that the worker was an employee, and even if on probation, was entitled to the minimum wage.

Information on internships is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Work experience and internships page.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says employers need to take the time to understand the wage rates applicable to their workplace.

"It is unacceptable for an employer to take advantage of any worker, especially overseas workers who have a limited understanding of their workplace rights," she says.

"We have minimum pay rates in Australia, they apply to everyone, and they are not negotiable.

"While many employers want to do the right thing, there are some who seek to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting vulnerable workers, such as visa-holders."

In separate matters, in Melbourne’s east, the Fair Work Ombudsman has also recovered:

  • $20,400 for a storeman in Mount Waverley who was paid $19 an hour for three-and-a-half years when he should have received up to $23.08,
  • $8900 for a salesman who worked across Melbourne's eastern suburbs and was not paid for weekend work, annual leave and travel time during overseas business trips,
  • $8000 for a young male labourer in Bayswater North who should have received a casual hourly rate but was paid part-time wages without the entitlements of a permanent employee,
  • $8000 for a full-time young male general labourer whose Donvale employer paid him first-year apprentice rates but had never signed an apprenticeship contract, and
  • $7500 for a male welder in Bayswater North who did not receive his annual leave upon resignation.

Ms James says it is important that businesses, particularly small businesses, know that they can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for advice and assistance if they are unsure of their obligations.

Employees and employers can also use the Fair Work Ombudsman's free online tools and resources to check entitlements specific to their workplace.

The Agency's Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT) provides advice about pay, shift, leave and redundancy entitlements. Visit www.calculate.fairwork.gov.au to learn more.

Ms James said most underpayments were inadvertent and the result of employers failing to check their minimum obligations under workplace laws.

"When we find errors, our preference is to educate employers about their obligations and assist them to put processes in place to ensure the mistakes are not repeated," she said.

In 2014-15, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $702,886 in underpaid wages and entitlements for 203 employees in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

She encouraged employers who had any uncertainty about whether their workplace practices were appropriate to visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for advice. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

The Infoline also offers a priority service to small business callers whose leading concerns after about wages, conditions, termination of employment, leave and entitlements.

Small business operators can also tap in to the suite of easy-to-follow courses at the award-winning Fair Work Ombudsman Online Learning Centre.

Follow Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James on Twitter @NatJamesFWO external-icon.png, the Fair Work Ombudsman @fairwork_gov_au External link icon or find us on Facebook www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au External link icon.

Sign up to receive the Fair Work Ombudsman’s media releases direct to your email inbox at www.fairwork.gov.au/mediareleases.

Media inquiries:

Annie Lawson, Media Adviser
Mobile: 0466 522 004
annie.lawson@fwo.gov.au

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