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The former operators of a Bendigo restaurant who repeatedly short-changed their employees have been fined a total of $142,000 following legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Sona Peaks Pty Ltd, which previously operated the Curry Garden Indian Restaurant in Victoria’s Goldfields region, has been fined $118,650.

The Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne has also imposed a further penalty of $23,715 against the company’s sole director and part-owner, David Peter Anderson.

The penalties are the result of an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to nine casual and part-time employees who were underpaid $11,201 between October, 2012 and September, 2013.

The Court has also ordered Sona Peaks to back-pay the workers their outstanding entitlements in full.

It is the second time the Fair Work Ombudsman has secured Court-issued penalties in relation to underpayments at the Curry Garden Indian Restaurant.

Earlier this year, Sona Peaks and Anderson were fined a total of $15,500 for refusing to back-pay another employee who was owed more than $5000.

In the latest case, the underpayments were the result of the employees – a cook and eight waiting staff – being paid flat rates as low as $10.50 an hour.

Three teenagers and an Indian international student were among the underpaid employees.

The lawful minimum hourly rates were $13.56 to $14.87 for the junior employees and $15.96 to $17.49 for the adult employees, with additional penalty rates payable for weekend, public holiday and night work.

Record-keeping obligations were also breached.

Sona Peaks and Anderson continued to underpay the employees despite numerous warnings and the earlier Court action.

Judge John O’Sullivan found that the case involved deliberate underpayments of vulnerable workers and said the penalties imposed should deter others from similar conduct.

In his judgment, Judge O’Sullivan said that Anderson and Sona Peaks were “abundantly aware of their obligations and the consequences of a breach” and found they had shown no contrition. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman discovered the underpayments as part of a proactive audit conducted as part of the second wave of the Agency’s National Hospitality Industry Campaign.

The case comes as the Fair Work Ombudsman notes a rising number of requests for assistance coming from visa holders working in Australia

In August last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers.

Source: Fair Work Ombudsman Media Release 31/7/2015

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