Race discrimination is being blamed for a flagrant case of wage theft against two Malaysian workers.
A court penalised their employer, a former hotel operator, more than $211,000 for underpaying the workers $28,000.
It’s the first time the Fair Work Ombudsman has taken legal action against an employer for race discrimination.
The Federal Circuit Court found the employer treated the overseas workers differently to Australian staff, who received proper wages.
In addition, the couple worked longer hours than Australian staff.
The Court penalised Chang Yen Chang $35,099, and his company, Yenida Pty Ltd, $176,005.
Chang owned and operated the Scamander Beach Resort Hotel on the state’s east coast until 2014.
Chang had a cultural connection with the couple and put pressure on them to work hard for him, referring to them as “family”
As a result, Judge Barbara Baker found that Chang made a deliberate decision to treat the Malaysian couple differently to other employees:
“Mr Chang was well aware of his obligations to pay them their entitlements under the relevant awards.
“They were taken advantage of, coming from Malaysia and being of Chinese descent.”
The chef worked six days a week, working between 33 and 57 hours.
He often started when the restaurant opened for lunch and finished at the end of dinner.
For that, he received an annual salary between $45,240 and $46,280.
The wage did not cover:
- penalty rates for weekend,
- public holiday,
- evening and overtime work,
resulting in a total underpayment of $20,550.
In addition, the man’s wife worked as a kitchen hand, working between 35 and 51 hours a week.
She received a flat rate of between $446 and $594 a week – resulting in an underpayment of $8,775 over a period of just four months.
Malaysian workers treated less favourably than Aussie workers
However, Chang treated his Australian workers differently.
He only required them to work five or fewer days a week.
In addition, he paid them legal minimum hourly rates, and penalty rates.
Overseas workers reluctant to complain
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says Chang clearly treated the couple from Malaysia differently to their Australian colleagues.
“Discrimination happens when someone is treated differently, or less favourably, because of an attribute like their race,” he said.
“Despite Mr Chang’s denials, the court found evidence that he treated the couple from Malaysia differently, despite describing them as ‘family’ – what a low life.
“This is another example of an employer exploiting vulnerable workers from overseas by stealing their wages.”
“They’re easy targets because often they are too afraid to speak up because they think it will affect their visa status – so the boss gets away with ripping them off.”
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