It has been reported in SBS that two migrant Malaysian business operators of three Japanese restaurants located in Brisbane are being fined more than AUD$200,000 in penalties for exploiting five Malaysian and Taiwanese workers.

According to the report, Malaysians Lee Wee Song and Siew Lay Yeoh were found to have underpaid their Malaysian and Taiwanese visa-holding employees at restaurants Teppanyaki Lovers and Nigi Nigi in the Brisbane CBD, and Ku-O in the suburb of Sunnybank.

Staff was being paid as little as $10 per hour when Australia's minimum wage is $17.70 per hour. The five workers were being underpaid between $13,880 to $45,182 each (totalling $148,710) between November 2011 and October 2014. Affected workers were holding student, bridging and partner visas.

Judge Salvatore Vasta, who imposed the penalties in the Federal Circuit Court on 6 February, said in the report that the fact Song and Yeoh had exploited employees of a similar cultural background was particularly disturbing.

He commented: "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 added, noting that the employers were responsible for ensuring fair and just treatment in compliance with Australian legislation.

Song and Yeoh were penalised $40,500 and $32,400, respectively; and their companies Tsuyoetsu and Taikuken were penalised $99,000 and $29,200, respectively.

The owners said that they “had little business experience in Australia and were naive about how to set up a business in the country” in ther submission. However, justice Vasta disagreed and commented: "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.”

"I don't accept that as being a true state of affairs. At the very best for (Song), one could say that he was acting with a large degree of willful blindness as to what his obligations were,” he concluded.

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