Sushi continues to grow in popularity with restaurants enjoying strong profits but what about the impact on some workers. PIC Karin Calvert-Borshoff
Sushi continues to grow in popularity with restaurants enjoying strong profits but what about the impact on some workers. PIC Karin Calvert-Borshoff

Sushi restaurants caught out in wages crackdown

SUSHI restaurants on the Gold Coast and northern NSW have been caught in a crackdown by the Fair Work Ombudsman which has recovered almost $800,000 in wages owed to workers.

The independent statutory agency Tuesday will release details of an Australia-wide regional audit where inspectors were shocked to find an 87 per cent noncompliance rate by the growing cafe trade.

The Bulletin can reveal four restaurants on the Glitter Strip were checked and another in Brisbane, all found to be underpaying workers. Almost $60,000 was owed to 22 staff.

The Glitter Strip was part of a regional audit of sushi restaurants regarding wage payments. Picture: JERAD WILLIAMS
The Glitter Strip was part of a regional audit of sushi restaurants regarding wage payments. Picture: JERAD WILLIAMS

"Two of the Gold Coast matters were initiated because of requests for assistance received from four employees during the compliance activity," the Fair Work Ombudsman report said.

The audits found underpayments across 37 businesses, and 29 businesses had breached record-keeping and pay slip laws.

Inspectors recovered $797,063 for 406 workers related to underpayments concerning minimum ordinary hourly rates, casual loading, penalty rates and overtime.

Nine infringement notices were issued leading to fines of $17,850 along with 15 formal cautions and six compliance notices.

Legal action has been launched against six sushi businesses with more serious alleged breaches of workplace laws with the courts which ordered combined penalties of $136,250.

The investigations led to Federal Court hearings regarding the underpayment of young Korean workers and use of false records at outlets in Ballina and Brisbane.

A sushi dish — popular and cheap but are the staff being paid wages.
A sushi dish — popular and cheap but are the staff being paid wages.

An audit of Sushi Kuni in Ballina found evidence that staff were being paid unlawfully low flat rates of pay between $120 and $160 for ten to 12 hour shifts.

The business operator was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay $8328 to staff for underpayments.

More than half of the dispute lodgements from sushi eateries in the three years to June 2017 involved a visa holder and 39 per cent originated from young workers.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the compliance activity followed increased requests for assistance from vulnerable workers employed at sushi outlets.

"Our activity identified that sushi eateries often employ vulnerable workers including young workers, migrant visa holders and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds," Ms Parker said.

Many sushi restaurant workers were not aware of their workplace rights or reluctant to complain.

Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker says there is no excuse for underpaying workers.
Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker says there is no excuse for underpaying workers.

"While the Fair Work Ombudsman never excuses employers who underpay their workers, we know that labour represents a significant cost in the food industry," Ms Parker said.

"Although everybody loves cheap sushi, perhaps we should ask ourselves - is what I'm paying enough to cover workers' minimum wages and entitlements."

Inspectors were disappointed with the high level of record-keeping breaches and will conduct follow-up checks at non-compliant sushi outlets.

"New laws mean employers face significantly higher penalties for serious breaches and we have no tolerance for employers that give inspectors false records," Ms Parker said.



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