The Federal Court has imposed a record $891,000 in penalties on the operators of three Hero Sushi outlets for underpaying 94 workers by $700,000 and providing hundreds of pages of false record to the Fair Work Ombudsman
“This is a case about greed and the exploitation of the vulnerable,” Justice Geoffrey Flick said on Monday as he imposed the highest quantum of penalties ever secured by the FWO.
HSCC Pty Ltd and HSCK Pty Ltd, which operate Hero Sushi outlets in Newcastle and Canberra respectively, have each been penalised $225,000 and HSPF Pty Ltd, which operates a Hero Sushi outlet on the Gold Coast, has been penalised $150,000.
Company directors and owners Deuk Hee “William” Lee and Hokun “Robert” Hwang have each been penalised $85,000, and payroll officers employed at Hero Sushi head office, Chang Seok “Tommy” Lee, Ji Won “Brian” Cho and Jung Sun “Jimmy” Kim, have been penalised $75,000, $16,000 and $30,000, respectively.
The underpaid workers, including Korean and Japanese nationals on international student and working holiday visas, were paid as little at $12 an hour for up to 60 hours per week.
Justice Flick said the outlets not only deliberately underpaid workers but attempted to conceal their wrongdoing from the Ombudsman by “reverse engineering” false and misleading records.
“Those in a position to ruthlessly take advantage of others pursued their goal of seeking to achieve greater profits at the expense of employees,” he said.
“In doing so, a great number of false documents were deliberately and repeatedly created with a view to concealing the fraud being perpetrated.
“Lies were told to cover up the wrongdoing. It was only when the “game was up” that those responsible admitted their misdeeds.”
The operators provided Fair Work Inspectors with hundreds of pages of false records across 11 separate occasions, showing inaccurate hours of work and pay rates.
The court found each of the individuals aided and abetted or were knowingly concerned in some of the company’s breaches of workplace laws.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the penalties imposed against Hero Sushi were the largest ever achieved as a result of a Fair Work Ombudsman litigation and demonstrated that employers deliberately exploiting vulnerable workers would face serious consequences.