A Cairns businessman and his tour company have been penalised almost $100,000 in fines and back-pay orders after short-changing five backpackers and defiantly claiming they would “not get a cent” of it.
The Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane has handed down a $12,000 fine against businessman Leigh Alan Jorgensen and another $55,000 against his company, which trades as Trek North Tours.
In addition, the Court has ordered Jorgensen’s company to back-pay the five 417 working holiday visa-holders $29,956 in underpaid wages and entitlements.
The fines and back-payment order are the result of an investigation and legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The five backpackers, aged between 23 and 32, were underpaid when they worked for Trek North Tours between August, 2013 and April last year.
They were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas from Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Italy and Taiwan.
They worked as tour desk agents at three Trek North Tours centres in Cairns – two on The Esplanade and one on Lake Street – for periods of up to four months.
After the employees lodged complaints with the Fair Work Ombudsman last year, inspectors found they had been paid flat rates of between $10 and $16.37 an hour.
In some cases, they were not paid anything at all for some work performed.
Under the General Retail Industry Award, they should have been paid at least $17.98 for normal hours and up to $39.56 an hour for shifts that attracted penalty rates.
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.
Members of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Overseas Workers’ Team have travelled to various regional locations, including Cairns, to meet with key stakeholders to gain intelligence as part of the review.
Of all requests for assistance received by the Fair Work Ombudsman from visa-holders, 40 per cent are now coming from 417 visa-holders.