Former 7-Eleven operator slugged almost $200,000 for underpaying workers

The former operator of two Brisbane 7-Eleven stores has been fined almost $200,000 after ripping off 21 workers to the tune of more than $30,000.

Jason Yuan ran two franchises in the CBD through his two companies until the middle of last year.

His stores were two of 20 outlets targeted in surprise night-time 7-Eleven visits by the Fair Work Ombudsman in September 2014, resulting in legal action against 11 operators.

Inspectors found workers at the Adelaide and George Street stores were paid flat rates for all hours, robbing them of penalties for night work, overtime and shift rates.

The exception was public holidays, when the staff, many of them foreign workers in the country on various visas, were paid an extra $20 an hour.

Investigators took Mr Yuan and his companies, Vipper and Viplus, to the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, where a judge ordered the fines late last month.

A joint Fairfax-Four Corners investigation into 7-Eleven stores last year found systemic underpayment of wages and doctoring of payroll records.

The court finding noted Mr Yuan made no attempt to falsify records or mislead the regulator.

Underpayments ranged from $100 up to $5080 for individual employees.

“Given that many of the employees of both Viplus and Vipper were in Australia on various visas, with many being young workers, the impact of the underpayments was significant for each of the affected employees,” Judge Patrizia Mercuri wrote.

“The respondents rectified the underpayments in full. This rectification however, does not take away from the detriment suffered by the individuals who did not have the benefit of the amounts to which they were lawfully entitled for a significant period of time.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman had warned Mr Yuan in 2013 that he had to pay correct weekend and public holiday rates, after a former employee complained of underpayment.

“Mr Yuan had been running these businesses for over 12 years and in addition, has a background in finance, banking and project management,” Judge Mercuri wrote.

“The evidence demonstrates that the respondents had access to significant training and support from the 7-Eleven head office, including in relation to the obligations imposed by Australian workplace laws.”

The court noted the operator had fully paid back the owed money and the conduct could not be considered “intentional”.

The respondents were also penalised for failing to meet record-keeping and payslip requirements.

The companies were fined $156,402, with fines levied personally against Mr Yuan making up the rest of the $192,961 figure.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah said continued non-compliance was viewed particularly seriously.

“Employers must recognise that significant consequences will follow when they knowingly flout the law,” she said, on Tuesday.

“There is no excuse for continued non-compliance by a business when it has been placed on notice and we will not hesitate to pursue serious enforcement action when this occurs.

Source: The Canberra Times (10th April 2018)

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