Legal action has been launched against the operators of a number of restaurant chains accused of paying workers as little as $9 an hour.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has taken action against three Tokyo Sushi outlets in NSW for allegedly underpaying workers more than $70,000.
Facing the Federal Circuit Court is Kiyoshi Hasegawa, who is involved in operating a number of Tokyo Sushi outlets in NSW and was allegedly involved in underpaying a total of 31 workers engaged across three outlets in Newcastle and on the Central Coast.
Ms Hasegawa is a director of Hasegawa & Ye International which also operates the Tokyo Ramen franchise which has been accused of paying young staff with cash rates up to half the minimum wage, as revealed by CentralNews.com.au last week.
The ombudsman alleges 16 employees at two Tokyo Sushi outlets at the Erina Fair shopping centre on the Central Coast were underpaid a total of $48,318 over a period of six months between January and July last year.
It is alleged that 15 employees at a Tokyo Sushi outlet at Fletcher, in Newcastle, were underpaid a total of $22,567 between January and September last year.
It is claimed inspectors found that pay rates at the three outlets did not comply with the Fast Food Industry Award 2010, with workers instead paid flat hourly rates ranging between $9 and $19 on weekdays.
I have no idea what you're talking about
Fair work Ombudsman Natalie James said young workers and workers from migrant backgrounds can be more vulnerable to exploitation as they are often reluctant to complain or are less aware of their rights.
“Anyone who attempts to capitalise on these vulnerabilities can expect to face serious enforcement action,” she said.
Hasegawa & Ye International faces maximum penalties of up to $54 thousand per contravention against the Fair Work Act.
Ms Hasegawa could not be reached for comment regarding the ombudsman’s legal action, but denied the wage theft when CentralNews.com.au spoke to her last week.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Ms Hasegawa said.
"You can go talk to the Fair Work and we've been paying same thing as the NSW award,” she said.
Tania Priskila worked at the Hasegawa-founded Tokyo Ramen for 3 years, where she was paid $12 as an employee and $14 as a manager. The national minimum wage is $18.29.
Ms Priskila questioned whether Ms Hasegawa would be able to afford the back-payments, but said the legal action was a good outcome.
“The people at the head office and the higher ups really don’t want a lot of things getting out,” Ms Priskila said.
She said “there’s a lot of people who kind of hate me right now” for speaking publicly about how much she was paid.
Former employee Catherine* said she received back-pay in cash since the CentralNews.com.au investigation.
The ombudsman is seeking orders for full back-payment of the allegedly underpaid employees.
There is now have an 'Anonymous Report' function as well as a ‘Record My Hours’ app available in an effort to aid young workers reporting potential workplace breaches.
A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Circuit Court on August 4.