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Hallmark Computers has been slapped with a $516,000 fine by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for underpaying workers.

In June, a federal court found the company had engaged in “deliberate, deceptive and systematic” abuse of workers employed under the 457 skilled visa scheme.

The court heard that Hallmark owner Ashok Alexander coerced employees from India and the Philippines into returning a significant pay packet every fortnight in cash under threat of losing their job and deportation.

This meant that employees’ annual salaries were pushed below the minimum threshold for 457 visa holders, while appearing to the Immigration Department to be making legitimate wage payments.

Alexander previously claimed to CRN’s sister title, iTnews, that he had reached an agreement with the workers to pay them $45,000 per annum – under the 457 threshold but in line with the salaries earned by organisation’s local staff, he said.

The company and its owner were hit with fines at the top end of the sentencing threshold, which Judge Robert Buchanan said would ensure the risk of being caught breaking 457 rules is “not seen by those who commit civil penalty offences as an acceptable cost of doing business”.

Alongside the $516,000 fine, Hallmark and Alexander were also told to pay back the three 457 visa workers still employed at the company a combined $66,000, and the Commonwealth another $17,500 in taxes.

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