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Australian Company fined $175,000 for Australian 457 visa breach

A Federal court has fined a Darwin company, Choong Enterprises, over AUS$175,000 for paying overseas Filipino visa holder workers below the legal requirements and for illegally charging them recruitment costs.

Choong Enterprises were brought to the Federal Court in Australia following charges of underpaying 10 Filipino workers that held 457 Temporary Work (Skilled) visas for a number of years. In fact, the overseas nationals had earned as little as AUS$12 an hour, rather than between $17 to $21 per hour between 2009 and 2012. Choong Enterprises were also charged with producing false salary records, illegally charging the workers for their own recruitment and failing to provide payments towards overtime, public holidays and sick leave.

Additionally, the workers were found to have worked about 60 hours a week in the dry season, despite being sponsored for only 38 hours a week.

The Federal Court ruled that Choong Enterprises, whose main business activity includes the preparation of food and drink for on premise consumption, were guilty of the above charges and went on to fine the company AUS$175,000. In his ruling Justice John Mansfield, stated that Choong Enterprises had failed to keep records of the cash wages that were paid to workers, as well as illegally charging four workers $200 a week to cover their recruitment costs.

Peter Dutton, the Immigration Minister, won the case against Choong Enterprises and its Director, Ronald Choong. Ronald Choong had previously received a number of prior warnings by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, but was found to have persisted with the infringements. By failing to heed the warnings and given his position within the company, Ronald Choong was personally found guilty aiding and abetting the breaches.

In total the company has been fined AUS$175,400 and ordered to reimburse migration agent costs to four of the workers to the tune of AUS $6,400. Unsurprisingly, Choong Enterprises has decided to longer employ 457 Temporary Work (Skilled) visa holders.

The civil penalty comes as a first of its kind by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as well as being the largest civil penalty a court in Australia has imposed on a sponsor failing to comply with their immigration and employment obligations.

The decision comes as a warning to other companies, operating in Australia, that employ staff and overseas nationals of the need to be compliant with the legal requirements.

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