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Franchisee Facing Record Penalties Under New Vulnerable Worker Laws

Franchisee facing record penalties under new vulnerable worker laws

A Western Australian franchisee is facing record penalties under recent Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws, after allegedly repeatedly ripping off migrant workers.

It’s the first time the Fair Work Ombudsman has launched legal action in WA using the laws, which came into effect in September 2017.

They carry maximum penalties of $630,000 for each serious contravention by a company and $126,000 for an individual – 10-times the penalties which would ordinarily apply.

The details

The legal action is being taken in the Federal Circuit Court against Cuc Thi Thu Pham, the former manager of the Hans Cafe at Rockingham, and Tac Pham Pty Ltd – the former franchisee of the outlet.

Fair Work alleges that the company and Ms Pham breached pay slip laws and underpaid 11 workers – including a number of young and migrant staff members – a total of $5,022 between October 2017 and April 2018.

Allegations include underpayment of ordinary minimum hourly rates, penalty rates, minimum shift-pay and an allowance, and breaches of pay slip laws.

It is alleged that two of the contraventions – relating to pay slips and underpayment of minimum wages – meet the definition of ‘serious contraventions’ under the Protecting Vulnerable Laws because of the alleged repeat offending.

Repeat offender

The legal action comes after Fair Work secured $45,000 in penalties against Tac Pham Pty Ltd and Ms Pham last year in relation to pay slip laws being breached and 22 staff being underpaid $27,920.

Penalties increased after community concerns about exploitation

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that increased maximum penalties were brought in following community concerns about worker exploitation in Australia.

“Employers are on notice that the Fair Work Ombudsman is making full use of the Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws to ensure that any individuals or companies who commit serious contraventions are held to account,” Ms Parker said.

Criminal penalties needed

Leading industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Claims once again called for criminal penalties to be introduced for wage theft.

“If it’s determined that Ms Pham is indeed a serial wage thief, then she should be sent to jail like all other thieves are,” Mr Heffernan said.

“Until the federal government gets serious about this issue, then people like Ms Pham will continue to steal from their workers – when is enough enough?” he asked.

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