Fast-food business guilty of underpaying 71-year-old worker

The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured $72,576 in penalties against the former operators of a fast food outlet in Northern Queensland following allegations it was underpaying a 71-year-old employee.

The Federal Circuit Court ordered a $12,096 penalty to Luke McGrath, who formerly owned and operated a number of ‘Wok Me’ outlets in Queensland and the ACT.

McGrath’s company, Wok Me Corporate NQ Pty Ltd, which specialises in noodle, rice and sushi dishes was fined a further $60,480 for the offences.

The highly publicised case sets the record for the oldest underpaid worker involved in legal action ever seen by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Earlier this year, McGrath and his company admitted to underpaying the Rockhampton worker, who despite being an Australian citizen, speaks little English more than $12,000 over a period of just four months in 2016.

The significant underpayment over a short period of time was the result of the worker not being paid any wages for eight weeks of work.

When the employee was paid wages, the flat rates he was paid – ranging from $20.92 to $25.20 per hour sometimes undercut the minimum hourly rate for ordinary hours outlined in his Individual Flexibility Agreement made under the Fast Food Industry Award 2010.

Additionally, overtime, annual leave and superannuation entitlements were also underpaid and record-keeping and pay slip laws were breached. The worker has since been back-paid in full.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the agency investigated the matter after they were contacted by the employee for assistance.

“Mature age employees can be vulnerable in the workplace as they face fewer opportunities and are often reluctant to complain,” Parker said.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman took court action against Wok Me because we prioritise matters involving the underpayment of vulnerable employees.”

“All businesses are legally obliged to ensure they are aware of the minimum wage rates and entitlements for all of their employees. Companies must pay workers the minimum wage rates that apply to theirposition for every hour of work they perform.”

In addition to imposing the penalties, Judge Gregory Egan order McGrath to commission external audits of Individual Flexibility Agreements used at businesses he is involved in operating, suggesting he register for the Fair Work Ombudsman’s My Account portal in order to complete a series of educational courses for employers.