Persistent underpayment matters involving Korean visa-holders have prompted the Fair Work Ombudsman to reach out to the Korean business community.
Following a similar approach last year to Chinese business and community leaders, the Agency has written to key Korean community groups in an effort to enlist their support to raise awareness of Australian workplace laws.
A number of migrant employers have told the Fair Work Ombudsman they undercut minimum wage rates because they pay a “going rate” for overseas workers.
However, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said any so-called “going rate” for overseas workers is a myth that must be dispelled.
James said minimum wage rates apply to everyone in Australia – including visa-holders – and they are not negotiable.
Last year, the operator of a Korean restaurant in Sydney told the Fair Work Ombudsman he advertised for staff for as little as $12 an hour because he feared retribution from competitors if he offered minimum wages.
The restaurateur told of pressure from the Korean business community to recruit workers at below-award wages and revealed that businesses which did not conform were fearful of payback.
Soon after, the Fair Work Ombudsman conducted an educational campaign on a number of Korean websites to raise awareness of workplace rights in Australia.
“While I understand there are cultural challenges and vastly different laws in other parts of the world, it is important for business people operating here to understand and apply Australian laws,” James said.
Earlier this year, a Korean migrant who opened a restaurant in Melbourne in 2015 without checking the wages applicable to his business was required to back-pay more than $40,000 to four of his former staff.
Businessman Kevin Pak paid four overseas backpackers – one from Korea and three from Japan – flat rates of $15 and $16 to work as kitchen hands and food and beverage attendants at his Russell St restaurant in the CBD.
YBF Australia Pty Ltd, the master franchisor of Yogurberry in Australia, has also been caught out for allegedly short-changing four Korean nationals almost $18,000. The workers, who knew limited English, were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas and were allegedly paid $8 an hour for up to six hours of training, before being paid flat rates of as little as $11 an hour. Under the Fast Food Industry Award they should have been paid between $14.82 and $18.52 an hour, for ordinary hours worked.
It’s also alleged the workers didn’t receive a special clothing allowance or superannuation entitlements and that three had unlawful deductions made from their wages. Laws relating to minimum shifts, classifications, record keeping and pay slips were allegedly also contravened.
According to 2011 Census data, there were almost 75,000 Korean-born people living in Australia, more than half of them in NSW, and less than 10 percent spoke English at home.
At the end of June 2015, there were also more than 50,000 Korean nationals in Australia, many of them international students, 417 working holiday back-packers and 457 visa-holders.