The operators of a chain of Sydney car-wash outlets with locations in Chatswood and Northbridge have been fined $90,000 for underpaying hundreds of workers.
In handing down his judgment last week in the Federal Court Justice Robert Buchanan found there had been no remorse for what he labelled “deliberate and calculated” conduct by Crystal Carwash Cafe Pty Ltd.
An investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found more than 350 employees, mostly young workers from non-English speaking backgrounds, were underpaid more than $177,000.
Justice Buchanan found the employees were “particularly vulnerable” and “the employer took advantage of that circumstance”.
He fined Crystal Carwash Cafe Pty Ltd $70,000, and the company’s director and part-owner Anthony Sahade was penalised a further $10,000.
Justice Buchanan also fined Peter Khouri, who was responsible for the company’s payroll and administrative functions, $10,000. The court found the two had “direct and major responsibility” for the underpayments.
Many of the employees were paid a flat rate of $13 an hour, leading to significant underpayment for overtime work, for which they were entitled to receive more than $21 an hour, as well as underpayment of their minimum hourly rate.
The underpayments occurred between January and September 2010, and have since been rectified.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the penalty signalled to employers that exploitation of vulnerable overseas employees was a serious matter.