Travel Agents

Travel agency fined $400,000 for targeting and exploiting vulnerable workers

Travel agency Abella Travel and its director Joung Hyung Lee have been penalised $398,520 for underpaying two Korean nationals a total of $37,464.29.

This comes after the company and its director were taken to Federal Court in 2017 over the matter.

Fair Work Inspectors found that both workers had been told by Abella Travel to pay a part of their wages in return for sponsorship of their 457 visas, according to The Age.

One of the workers reportedly gave evidence to the court that, as a result of underpayments, she was forced to share a bedroom in a share house and borrow money from family. The other said she was at times unable to afford public transport, resulting in her having to walk long distances.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured the penalties against the agency, which operates in Melbourne and South Korea after it had pledged to comply with workplace laws under a court-enforceable undertaking, The Age reported.

Federal Court judge Heather Riley described Abella Travel and director Joung Hyung Lee as “recidivists” and said Lee had “targeted vulnerable people and exploited them for his own financial benefit”.

“The respondents’ behaviour in this regard is deserving of considerable censure, especially as, while underpaying staff, [Lee] has accumulated considerable equity in real estate, and $200,000 cash in the bank,” Judge Riley said.

“The respondents’ level of dishonesty is such in this case that I cannot be confident that they will not contravene again.”

Abella Travel has previously come under the radar of the Fair Work Ombudsman. In 2014, the agency was found to have underpaid another South Korean employee more than $4,200.

Fair Work Ombudsman’s Sandra Parker said it was unlawful for employers to ask for cashback from employee’s wages, and warned employers a deliberate breach of employment laws after entering into an enforceable undertaking with her agency would result in legal action.

“Court-enforceable undertakings are an effective enforcement tool when employers commit to a range of measures aimed at ensuring future compliance with workplace laws,” Parker said.

“This penalty should serve as a warning to any employer that fails to live up to that commitment.”

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