Hotels

Motel operators fined $280,000 for underpaying workers

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

The operators of motels in NSW and Victoria have been fined $280,000 for leaving two workers $130,000 out of pocket.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced in a statement on Tuesday it had secured $280,000 in penalties against the operators of NSW Motel Management for underpaying visa workers.

Owners Michael Parkes and wife Rowena Sioco Parkes have been charged in the Australian Federal Court for breaches to workplace law, after the pair underpaid two Filipino men a combined $130,000.

The workers were recruited along with their partners to work full time in NSW Motel Management’s motels on 457 worker visas.

However, in what the FWO called an unlawful ‘two-for-one-deal’, only the female members of each couple were paid wages.

One of the male employees was also directed to under-record his hours of work; a female employee was also threatened with dismissal after she spoke to a Fair Work Inspector.

The FWO submitted this was an unlawful ‘two-for-one deal’ and resulted in the two male employees being underpaid a total of $134,535 in wages and entitlements.

In his judgment, Judge John O’Sullivan said the respondents had sought to downplay their conduct by claiming it was aimed at giving the employees a better chance at life.

Judge O’Sullivan found that the “contraventions in this case involve an undermining of the statutory objects and purpose of the [Fair Work] Act in a manner which is so egregious as to require a substantial penalty”.

Parkes has been penalised $50,000 and the company he operates with his wife, NSW Motel Management Services Pty Ltd, has been penalised $220,000, as a result.

Parkes has been penalised an additional $10,000 for her role in breaches of laws relating to “adverse action” and cashing out annual leave.

NSW Motel Management operates the Comfort Inn Country Plaza at Halls Gap in Victoria, and the Quality Inn Country Plaza at Queanbeyan, in NSW. It also formerly operated the Comfort Inn Country Plaza in Taree, NSW.

All four motel employees worked full-time, with their duties including reception, cleaning and laundry, waiting on tables, cooking, maintenance, gardening and groundwork.

One of the Filipino couples worked at the Halls Gap, Queanbeyan and Taree motels between November 2012 and January 2015. The other couple was employed at the Halls Gap motel between February 2013 and April 2014.

The male employee who worked at Halls Gap was underpaid a total of $61,578.48, while the other male employee was underpaid a total of $72,957.20.

The FWO said in a statement it had initially investigated the case after receiving a referral from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and added underpayments by NSW Motel Management were rectified in 2016.

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