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Australian travel agency fined nearly $400k

Among its crimes, the company forced a worker to pay back $20k in wages

A travel agency operating in Melbourne and Korea has been fined nearly $400,000 after it forced a worker to pay back $20,000 in wages while underpaying another employee. 


One of the workers told Federal Circuit Court she had been forced to share a bedroom in a share house as well as borrow money from family as a result of the underpayments, while the other said she couldn’t even afford public transport. 


Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker (Image Paul Jeffers)


The two Korean nationals were told the cashback scheme was a condition of the sponsorship of their 457 visas, Fair Work Inspectors found. 


According to The Age, Abella Travel and its director were penalised $398,520 for underpaying the workers $37,464.


The agency was fined $332,100 and its director Joung Hyung Lee $66,420 after admitting to breaching workplace laws. 


While attempting to arrange a similar cashback scheme with the second migrant worker, the Fair Work Ombudsman said the company provided false records, underpaid wages, overtime rates and leave entitlements. 


Federal Court judge Heather Riley said Abella Travel and Mr 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, (Mr 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.”


Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said cashback schemes were unlawful. 


“Court-Enforceable Undertakings are an effective enforcement tool when employers commit to a range of measures aimed at ensuring future compliance with workplace laws," she said. 


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



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Written by: Mark Harada

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