Travel company accused of exploiting 457 holders

Abella Travel is facing legal action in the Federal Court Circuit after allegedly violating the Fair Work Act

Travel company accused of exploiting 457 holders

Abella Travel Pty Ltd and one of its directors are facing court for allegedly requiring an overseas employee to pay back more than $20,000 of her wages.

Moreover, the company is accused of proposing to enter into a similar cashback scheme with a second worker.

The company, which operates travel agencies in both Melbourne and Korea, and director Joung Hyung Lee are facing action in the Federal Circuit Court in relation to the allegations.

It is claimed that the company told the workers, both Korean nationals, that the cashback arrangements were a condition of their 457 visa sponsorship, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Further, it is alleged that Abella Travel underpaid the two workers a total of more than $17,000 and provided false and misleading records to the FWO.

The FWO investigated the matter after receiving requests for assistance from the two workers.

The first employee was allegedly told she had to pay the company back sums ranging from $289 to $387 in cash each week for approximately one year.

The employee complied with this demand, allegedly resulting in cashback payments totalling $20,854 during the course of her employment.

The second worker was allegedly told by Lee that when her application for a 457 visa was approved, she would be paid a “full” salary of $59,000 per year but would be required to pay back $19,000 per year.

While this arrangement did not eventuate because the employee did not receive 457 visa approval, the FWO claims that the alleged proposed arrangement still constitutes a contravention of the Fair Work Act.

It is alleged that in addition to the cashback schemes, the employer failed to pay the workers' applicable wage, penalty and overtime rates as well as leave entitlements. In total, it is alleged that the workers are owed $38,328.

The company has back-paid $6,505.94 to the workers, with $31,822.12 outstanding.

This matter was not the first time that Abella Travel had come to the agency’s attention, according to the Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Mark Scully.

In 2014, the company entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman after being found to have underpaid an employee, also a Korean national, more than $4,200 and failing to meet recordkeeping and payslip requirements.

“Repeated interactions with my agency mean this employer is aware of their workplace obligations in relation to wage rates, leave entitlements and record keeping requirements,” said Scully.

“Visa holders are entitled to the same minimum rates and conditions as Australian workers.

“The fact that we have previously put this employer on notice and the vulnerable status of the employees as visa-holders were significant factors in the decision to commence legal action in this case.”

Scully added that the incident was the latest in a series of cases brought before the courts by the agency that involve alleged cashback schemes.

“I am concerned that cashback schemes are being utilised by unscrupulous operators in an attempt to get around record keeping laws and disguise serious underpayment of wages,” said Scully.


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