The Fair Work Ombudsman secured the penalties against the agency, which operated in Melbourne and Korea, after it had pledged to comply with workplace laws under a Court-Enforceable Undertaking.
The Federal Circuit Court fined the company $332,100 and its director Joung Hyung Lee was penalised $66,420 after admitting to breaching workplace laws by requiring a migrant worker to pay back more than $20,000 of her wages between 2013 and 2015.
The Fair Work Ombudsman said the company and Mr Lee had also proposed a similar cashback scheme with a second migrant worker, provided false records and failed to pay one of the employees the relevant wage, penalty and overtime rates and leave entitlements.
Federal Court judge Heather Riley described Abella Travel and Mr Lee as “recidivists” and said Mr Lee had “targeted vulnerable people and exploited them for his own financial benefit”.
“The respondents’ behaviour in this regard is deserving of considerable censure, especially as, while underpaying staff, (Mr Lee) has accumulated considerable equity in real estate, and $200,000 cash in the bank,” Judge Riley said.
“The respondents’ level of dishonesty is such in this case that I cannot be confident that they will not contravene again.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said it is unlawful for employers to ask for cashback from employee’s wages.
She warned employers that a deliberate breach of employment laws after entering into an enforceable undertaking with her agency would result in legal action.
“Court-Enforceable Undertakings are an effective enforcement tool when employers commit to a range of measures aimed at ensuring future compliance with workplace laws,” she said.
“This penalty should serve as a warning to any employer that fails to live up to that commitment.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman said Abella Travel had publicly committed to future compliance with workplace laws in 2014 under the enforceable undertaking entered after the company underpaid a Korean national more than $4,200 and breached record-keeping and pay slip laws.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.