A Tokyo Sushi franchisee who thought she could give her employees a raw deal has been hit with $383,616 in penalties from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
Ms Kiyoshi Hasegawa was personally fined $63,936 for underpaying 31 employees a total of $70,885, while the two companies owned by her and her family, Hasegawa & Ye International Pty Ltd and Heiwa International Pty Ltd, were fined $150,120 and $169,560 respectively.
The underpayments at the franchisee’s three Tokyo Sushi outlets were discovered by FWO inspectors during an audit of more than 40 sushi outlets across Canberra, South-East Queensland, and the Hunter, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour and North Coast regions in NSW.
The FWO found that 16 employees working at two of Ms Hasegawa’s Tokyo Sushi outlets in Gosford had been underpaid a total of $48,318 during a six-month period, while 15 employees working at her Tokyo Sushi outlet in Newcastle were underpaid $22,567 during an eight-month period.
The employees were receiving hourly rates ranging between $9 and $19, plus 25% loading on Saturdays and 50 per cent loading on Sundays. This did not comply with the Fast Food Industry Award 2010.
Visa-holders and eight junior employees aged between 16 and 20 were among the underpaid employees.
Sandra Parker of the FWO says that the ombudsman is targeting underpayment in the fast food and hospitality sectors.
“Young migrant workers can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation if they are reluctant to complain due to visa concerns or unaware of their workplace rights. The Fair Work Ombudsman takes the blatant underpayment of vulnerable workers particularly seriously, which has been supported by the Court’s substantial penalty,” Ms Parker said.
“Inspectors will continue to conduct targeted audits across the fast food, restaurant and café sector and we will hold employers accountable if they are not meeting their lawful obligations. We encourage any workers with concerns about their pay to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.”
In the Federal Circuit Court ruling, Judge Philip Dowdy said the contraventions were “serious” and the employer had “no excuse” to underpay her employees.
“The simple fact of the matter is that persons who engage in business activities which necessitate the employment of staff are under a strict obligation to pay their staff the just entitlements of the staff in accordance with law, whether the relevant employer is a major corporation or, as here, a family business,” he said.
“Employees are entitled to respect and part of that respect is to pay them their full entitlements which must be recognised and known to the employer.”
Judge Dowdy said the penalties should deter the employer and “others who might be inclined to contravene the Fair Work Act in a similar fashion”.
In addition to the fines imposed, Ms Hasegawa, Hasegawa & Ye International Pty Ltd and Heiwa International Pty Ltd were ordered to rectify all outstanding underpayments to its employees.