A former Sunshine fruit shop owner has received a record fine of $660,000 for breaching wage laws, including not paying one of his staff for weeks.
Altona North resident Abdulrahman Taleb, the former owner-operator of the Sunshine Fruit Market at 21c Devonshire Road in Sunshine, has been fined $16,020 and his company Mhoney Pty Ltd $644,000 in the Federal Circuit Court for deliberately ignoring warnings about required pay rates and not paying a refugee worker any wages for weeks.
The total $660,020 in penalties is the largest ever achieved as a result of a Fair Work Ombudsman litigation.
The court found a worker, an Afghani refugee who spoke little English, was paid nothing for a number of weeks in early 2012 and was later paid a flat rate of $10 an hour to a maximum of $120 per day for moving and stacking fruit and vegetables at the market.
Under the General Retail Industry Award 2010, the correct hourly rate was about $17 for normal hours, up to $35 on weekends and up to $43 on public holidays. The company also failed to pay overtime rates.
The company underpaid the worker a total of $25,588 for two periods of work in 2012 and 2103.
In his judgment, Judge Philip Burchardt criticised the scale of the underpayments.
“The underpayments were so significant that the total not paid to [the worker] was, in relative terms, enormous for such a short time,” Judge Burchardt said.
“Furthermore, for some of the time [he] was simply not paid at all. I accept the submission of the [Ombudsman] that the way it worked out was that [the worker] was paid wages of between $3.49 and $9.29 per hour.
“This was an egregious underpayment. It gave the respondents an unfair advantage in the competitive retail industry.”
The worker initially came to Australia as an asylum seeker and spent time in detention before being granted Australian residency and released in late 2010.
“[The worker] was a vulnerable employee in that he was a recent arrival to Australia and totally lacked fluency in English,” Judge Burchardt said.
The previous record penalties of $532,910 were secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman in February.