SUSHI operators have been in the crosshairs of the Fair Work Ombudsman for at least a few years here in the Hunter.
In May this year, Sushi Revolution Pty Ltd’s Lydia Chang allegedly underpaid four Korean nationals a total of more than $33,000. As news broke that Ms Chang had been handed penalties of $36,000 by the Federal Circuit Court, a new raft of Hunter sushi venues were finding themselves in the spotlight. Most recently, a crackdown across the state found almost 90 per cent of the 45 premises visited were non-compliant with workplace laws. Almost half of the outlets included in the audit were in Newcastle, the Hunter or the Central Coast.
Other matters relating to Hunter-based sushi outlets, and concerning allegations of more than two dozen staff being underpaid, remain before the courts.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker said sushi restaurants “often employ vulnerable workers including young workers, migrant visa holders and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds”.
“We were particularly disappointed with the high level of record-keeping breaches discovered in the activity and will conduct follow-up checks at non-compliant sushi outlets,” 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?”
These matters, and the focus from the watchdog, are not to say that all sushi restaurants are in breach. Many non-sushi restaurants are found in breach of their employer obligations, just as many sushi restaurants deal with their staff as required by industrial law.
In Ms Chang’s case, the four workers who were paid a flat rate for their work were on 417 working holiday visas. They required a translator to speak to authorities.
The Ombudsman is to be congratulated for making efforts to educate employers and to provide access in other languages to their support services, including anonymous tips about breaches. Not all breaches are intentional, with part of the ombudsman’s role designed to educate employers about their responsibilities. Regardless, though, it is vital that employers abide by their responsibilities as the first rule of operating in Australia. The ramifications of exploiting staff, both moral and legal, are severe.