Malaysian couple fined over $200,000 for exploiting staff in Australia restaurants

PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian couple and their companies have been fined more than A$200,000 (S$216,510) for exploiting Malaysian and Taiwanese workers at their three Japanese restaurants in Brisbane, Australia, said a report on

The report said Lee Wee Song and Siew Lay Yeoh, who were fined A$40,500 and A$32,400 respectively, were found to have underpaid five visa-holding workers at their Teppanyaki Lovers and Nigi Nigi restaurants in the Brisbane CBD, and Ku-O in the suburb of Sunnybank.

Their companies, Tsuyoetsu Pty Ltd and Taikuken Pty Ltd, were fined A$99,000 and A$29,200, respectively.

The report said the five workers, who have student, bridging and partner visas, were paid as little as A$10 (S$10.83) per hour. Australia's minimum wage is A$17.70 per hour. It is not known how many are Malaysians.

They were underpaid between A$13,880 and A$45,182 each between November 2011 and October 2014.

The report said that Judge Salvatore Vasta, who imposed the fines in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday, said the fact that both the accused had exploited employees of a similar cultural background was particularly disturbing.

The judge reportedly said that "it would seem that if someone from a particular culture comes to Australia and is employed by somebody else from the same background, there would be an automatic level of trust and comfort in that fact."

"There is an obligation on them to ensure that workers from a similar culture to the employers are not exploited," he said.

The report quoted Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James as saying that overseas workers were entitled to the same pay as Australians.

In their submission, the accused said they had little business experience in Australia and were naive about how to set up a business in the country.

But the judge disagreed, saying "it does seem that for people with a level of naivety, they were able to set up one business and then incorporate and set up another business and then incorporate and set up a third business, so the level of naivety has to be seen in that light."

SBS has contacted the owners for comment.