A warehousing and distributions services company is facing court action for allegedly underpaying 30 migrant employees in its Sydney warehouse.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Winit (AU) Trade Pty Ltd, a Hong Kong-owned company that provides warehousing and distribution services for products sold on online platforms, underpaid the employees a total of $368,684 between July 2017 and June 2018, their remuneration allegedly well below their entitlements under the Services and Wholesale Award 2010.
All 30 employees were working holiday visa holders, mostly from Taiwan and aged in their 20s, who performed various duties associated with sorting, loading and packing goods. Individual alleged underpayments range from $446 to $28,202, with 19 of the employees being allegedly underpaid more than $10,000.
The FWO noted that the employees regularly worked up to 60 to 70 hours per week over six or seven days but most were paid a flat hourly rate of $24.41 with no penalty or overtime entitlements. The FWO determined that four of the underpayments meet the definition of “serious contraventions” under the Protecting Vulnerable Workers amendments to the Fair Work Act as there was evidence to show the contraventions were deliberate and systematic.
Winit allegedly also failed to comply with laws relating to payslips, providing new employees with a Fair Work Information Statement and various award obligations, including shift allowances, meal allowances, and frequency of pay.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker reminded companies that maximum penalties for serious contraventions are $630,000 per breach. This is the fifth case in which the FWO suggested that the increased maximum penalties should apply, 10 times the penalties which would ordinarily apply.
“Employers are on notice that the Fair Work Ombudsman will enforce the Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws to ensure that any individuals or companies who allegedly commit serious contraventions are held to account,” Parker said. “All workers in Australia have the same rights, regardless of nationality and visa status.”
While all employees have now been back-paid in full, FWO alleged that Winit contravened adverse actions laws by reducing at least two employees’ shifts after they refused Winit’s settlement offer, made shortly after FWO commenced its investigation, to pay only 25 per cent of their outstanding entitlements.
The company’s director and general manager Song Cheng was allegedly involved in Winit’s contraventions concerning overtime rates, penalty rates and frequency of pay, according to the FWO.
Winit faces penalties of up to $63,000 per contravention and up to $12,600 per contravention he was allegedly involved in. The FWO did stress, however, that Cheng was not involved in the more serious contraventions.
A directions hearing is set in the Federal Court in Sydney on 18 June 2021.