Vietnamese factory worker short-changed $16,000 over four years

2 July 2015 

A migrant factory worker in Melbourne was underpaid almost $16,000 over four years, a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation has found.

The Vietnamese woman, in her 40s, spoke limited English and sought assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman through an interpreter.

She worked for Dandenong-based car components manufacturer Katjen Enterprise Pty Ltd between January, 2010 and May last year.

Her duties included sewing and gluing vinyl fabrics used in the interior trim of new cars.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the woman was paid a flat hourly rate of $13 for weekend, overtime and public holiday work.

“However, under the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services and Retail Award 2010, she should have received up to $46.09 an hour,” she said.

“The minimum hourly rates for ordinary working hours and annual leave entitlements were also underpaid.”

Ms James says Katjen’s director Ly Khuong Chau, told Fair Work inspectors the employee had agreed to be paid $13 an hour.

“However, employers are not able to enter into agreements that undercut employees’ minimum lawful entitlements,” she said.

Katjen and Mr Chau have reimbursed the former employee all her outstanding entitlements and signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

As part of the EU, Katjen will implement a workplace relations training program for managers and commission external professional audits of its pay practices every six months for the next 18 months.

Katjen and Mr Chau have also agreed to use the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Online tool My Account and develop systems for ensuring ongoing compliance with workplace laws.

Further, the company will display a workplace notice at its factory detailing its breaches and resolve all future workplace disputes promptly and report details to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Fair Work Ombudsman received two other underpayment-related requests for assistance from Katjen employees in 2013. These were voluntarily rectified by the company without the need for further action.

Ms James says the case is a timely reminder to small business operators of the importance of ensuring they take the time to understand the workplace laws applicable to their business.

“Underpayments of hourly rates can result in significant underpayments if they’re left unchecked for an extended period of time,” she said.

“It’s important that employers who are unsure about their obligations contact the Fair Work Ombudsman, or check with their industry association.

“We know workplace laws can seem complicated for the uninitiated, but we ask small business to use the tools and resources that we provide for them and inform themselves.”

Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Small business employers calling the Fair Work Infoline can also opt to receive priority service via the Small Business Helpline.

An interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

Information on the website has been translated into 27 languages, including Vietnamese, to assist people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also produced videos in 14 different languages and posted them on YouTube to assist people from non-English speaking backgrounds to understand Australia’s workplace relations laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman uses Enforceable Undertakings where it has formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this and accepted responsibility and agreed to co-operate and fix the problem.

“Many of the initiatives included in EUs help to build a greater understanding of workplace responsibilities, motivate the company to do the right thing and help them avoid the same mistakes again,” Ms James said.

“Equipping people with the information they need encourages and empowers employees and employers to resolve issues in their workplace and build a culture of compliance, ensuring a level playing field for all.”

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