The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured a total of $204,000 in penalties in court against a Brisbane fast food business.
The Fair Work Ombudsman began its investigation after receiving a request for assistance from a Nepalese visa holder. The person was employed as a casual kitchen hand at the commercial kitchen from April 2018 to August 2019.
As per the report, the court fined Riddhi Siddhi Pty Ltd, which operates the ‘Vege Rama’ fast food outlet, after the business used false records to try to frustrate an ongoing Fair Work investigation.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court imposed a $185,000 penalty against Riddhi Siddhi Pty Ltd and an associated commercial kitchen in Fortitude Valley.
The Court further imposed an additional $19,000 penalty against company director Ruchika Sharma.
Judge Salvatore Vasta found that Riddhi Siddhi and Ms Sharma had falsified records to make it appear the Nepalese worker had been paid Award rates. They knowingly provided these records to the Fair Work in “an attempt to obfuscate the truth and to ensure that any proper investigation was never able to be pursued”. Judge Vasta added:
“The severity and seriousness of what (Riddhi Siddhi and Ms Sharma) have done cannot be overstated. This was a deception that went to the heart of the fair industrial and employment system of this country.”
Fair Work notes that the penalties have been imposed in response to Riddhi Siddhi breaching the Fair Work Act. The Brisbane operator made false records and handed them to Fair Work Inspectors during the investigation.
Further, Riddhi Siddhi also breached the Fair Work Act by giving false or misleading payslips to an employee and failing to comply with a Compliance Notice requiring the company to back-pay the worker, who worked up to 66 hours per week and was paid $11 to $13 an hour.
It was only after the Fair Work Ombudsman’s commencement of legal action that the Brisbane fast-food operator back-paid the worker $59,400, plus interest and superannuation.
Fair Work said in its statement that Ms Sharma was involved in the provision of the false records to Fair Work Inspectors and the failure to comply with the Compliance Notice.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers who use false records to try to frustrate an investigation into underpayment allegations will face serious consequences.
“Falsifying records and providing them to the Fair Work Ombudsman is extremely serious conduct and it will be met with the strongest possible enforcement action.”
Ms Parker further adds:
“Employers also need to be aware that taking action to protect vulnerable workers, including visa holders, and improve compliance in the fast food, restaurant and café sector continue to be priorities for the FWO. Any employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact us for free advice and assistance.”
Judge Vasta said in his statement that “the need for the Court [is] to impose a deterrent penalty.”
“The Courts will simply not tolerate such brazen contraventions of the intentions of the Commonwealth Parliament.”
Further, Judge Vasta described the conduct of the Brisbane fast-food operator as “extremely difficult to detect”. he said:
“If it were not for the employee having the sense to take photographs of each of the time sheets, if it were not for the employee going to work via public transport and using a go card, and if it were not for the employee having a Google phone that was able to GPS-track his movements for over six months, the scheme, or device, used by (Riddhi Siddhi and Ms Sharma) would never have unravelled as it has now.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman has an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs. This is called the Assurance Protocol and under this valid visa holders can ask for FWO’s help without fear of their visa being cancelled for breaches of their work-related visa conditions.