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Less English, less pay: Restaurant owner admits underpaying workers according to English skills

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The owner of a restaurant that last year catered for the Chinese President’s travelling party to Hobart has admitted to underpaying an employee because her English skills were simply not up to scratch.

Rebecca Lin Cong, who operates two Written on Tea restaurants – in Hobart and Sandy Bay, paid workers with limited English a wage of $11 per hour. Those without any experience were paid $12 an hour.

According to Ms Cong, these workers were being given the opportunity to work and earn an income, so paying them full Award wages was not necessary.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has taken enforcement measures against Ms Cong “to encourage behavioural change and future compliance with workplace laws”.

The FWO, looking into Ms Cong’s payment practices after an employee took to them with a request for help, found that one 30-year-old Chinese national had been underpaid around $3,500 in only five weeks of work during February and March 2015.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said:

“…Those who think they can exploit vulnerable overseas workers in order to reduce business costs need to think again.”

Ms Cong has signed an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the FWO and has agreed to hire an external professional to take care of auditing workplace practices over the next year. Notices detailing the breaches are now up in restaurants, with translations in both English and Mandarin.

“We use Enforceable Undertakings where we have formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this and accepted responsibility and agreed to co-operate and fix the problem,” Ms James said.