Serious breaches of Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws costs ex-franchisee $191,646

The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured its first penalties for serious breaches of Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws.

The Federal Circuit Court fined Tac Pham Pty Ltd, the former franchisee of the Han’s Café Rockingham outlet, $191,646 for underpaying vulnerable workers despite having previously faced Court for similar conduct.

The Court also ordered former general manager of the outlet, Cuc Thi Thu Pham, to pay $38,394.

Ms Pham and the company breached pay slip laws and underpaid 11 employees a total of $5,111 between October 2017 and April 2018.

The employees have been back-paid but only after the Fair Work Ombudsman began its latest investigation.

Three of the contraventions – relating to failures to provide required information within pay slips and underpayment of both adult and junior minimum wages – met the definition of ‘serious contraventions’ under the Protecting Vulnerable Laws because of the repeat offending.

Of the total penalties ordered, 80 per cent related to these serious contraventions.

Under the laws, which came into effect in September 2017, the maximum penalties for serious contraventions are $630,000 per breach for a company and $126,000 for an individual, 10-times the penalties which would ordinarily apply.

Judge Christopher Kendall said “The respondents had no intention of changing their conduct and would have continued as they had been if the [Fair Work Ombudsman] had not intervened when it did.

“The respondents failed to comply with the most basic obligations owed to employees. Their conduct reflects a cavalier and entirely unacceptable approach to core legal obligations.”

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the new judgment highlighted the value of the serious contraventions powers in providing a significant deterrent for employers doing the wrong thing.

“We will continue to make full use of the Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws to ensure that any individuals or companies who commit serious contraventions are held to account and understand the consequences of their failures,” Parker said.

There are currently three other unrelated matters before the courts nationally in which the FWO has alleged the increased maximum penalties should apply.

“Repeat offending is simply unacceptable. Employers should also be aware that we treat cases involving underpayment of young and migrant workers particularly seriously, because we are conscious that they can be vulnerable due to factors such as a lack of awareness of their entitlements and a reluctance to complain. Any workers with concerns should contact us,” Parker said.