japanese restaurant sushi
A customer parks a bicycle outside sushi restaurant chain Sushiro, operated by Akindo Sushiro Co., in Kawaguchi, Saitama prefecture, Japan May 14, 2016. Reuters/Issei Kato

Samurais Paradise Pty Ltd owner Shigeo Ishiyama has faced charges for allegedly paying his workers as little as $8 per hour. The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action against Ishiyama not only for paying low minimum salary but also for using false records suggesting that he paid higher rates. Ishiyama owned and operated the Samurais Paradise and formerly operated the Japanese Curry House Kawaii restaurant.

According to the ombudsman, Ishiyama has underpaid nine employees over a period of just four months between July to October 2015. The record revealed that he underpaid a total of $59,080. Most of the workers employed were Japanese citizens in their 20s on a 417 working holiday visa.

In 2015, the restaurant has been audited by the ombudsman as part of a wider activity that targeted the fast food outlets and restaurants in Gold Coast. During the auditing, the Fair Work inspectors allegedly found out that employees in Ishiyama's restaurant were being paid low. Ishiyama was informed on his obligations under workplace laws. He was also informed about his company that subsequently made back-payments to employees.

However, Ishiyima allegedly continued to underpay employees with flat rates between $8 to $11 per hour. During the inspection period, the ombudsman was observing the Restaurant Industry Award 2010. According to the pay guide, the employees should be paid with minimum hourly rates of up to $18.47. For weekend and public holiday work, penalty rates of $26.03 to $46.18 should be paid.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that legal action has been commenced because it was a serious matter and young overseas workers were involved.

“It is completely unacceptable that this employer allegedly continued to blatantly undercut lawful minimum rates, despite being educated about his obligations. I want to make it clear that the lawful obligations to pay minimum wage rates, keep appropriate employment records and issue pay slips apply to all employers in Australia and they are not negotiable,” she said in a statement.

James said that she was concerned about the increasing number of employers who underpay workers coming from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. In February, Bistro Cheers Japanese Family Restaurant at Nobby's Beach has been found to pay flat rates of between $13 and $18 per hour on working holiday visa holders.

She said that cases related to underpayment of overseas workers were treated seriously as the ombudsman was conscious that workers were unaware of their entitlements. She pointed out that all businesses operating in Australia should understand and apply Australian laws even cultural challenges existed. She encouraged the business owners to consult the ombudsman for free advice.