Accounting firm penalised under accessorial liability laws

The firm was found to have knowingly helped one of its clients underpay a vulnerable worker

Accounting firm penalised under accessorial liability laws
Ezy Accounting 123 Pty Ltd has been penalised $53,880 after the Federal Circuit Court found that it facilitated underpayments by its client, fast food operator Blue Impression Pty Ltd.

Accessorial liability laws have been used for the first time by the Fair Work Ombudsman to obtain penalties against a professional services firm for knowingly helping one of its clients exploit a worker.

Blue Impression has been penalised an additional $115,706 after admitting it underpaid two Taiwanese workers between September 2014 and April 2015 at its Hanaichi QV Japanese fast food outlet in the Melbourne CBD a total of $9549.

The Victorian accounting firm was involved in facilitating $750 of the underpayments relating to one of the workers.

Ezy Accounting 123 provided payroll services for Blue Impression and processed wage payments for one of the two underpaid Taiwanese workers at the Hanaichi QV outlet despite knowing the rates the worker was being paid were below lawful minimums.

The two employees, who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas, were paid flat rates as low as $16.50 an hour. They were both aged in their 20s. 

This was below the minimum hourly rate and not enough to cover public holiday penalty rates and weekend, night and casual loadings they were entitled to under the Fast Food Industry Award. 

The workers were also not provided with a clothing allowance and their entitlements to breaks under the Award. Record-keeping and pay slip laws were also contravened.

The underpayments occurred despite the FWO having previously put both Blue Impression and Ezy Accounting 123 on notice of their obligations under workplace laws.

Blue Impression was previously audited in 2014 as part of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s proactive National Hospitality Campaign and was put on notice of its workplace obligations after it was found to have underpaid 12 employees a total of $8800.

Ezy Accounting 123 was also apprised of minimum Award rates at the time of the audit, as it assisted the company to calculate and rectify the wage underpayments.

Judge John O’Sullivan found that the two Taiwanese employees at the Hanaichi QV outlet were vulnerable workers and had been “the victim of exploitation”.

In relation to the worker Ezy Accounting 123 was involved in underpaying, Ezy submitted in Court that the worker “was not Ezy’s employee” and that “Ezy did not exploit (the employee) in his work”.  

However, Judge O’Sullivan said that it was a “circumstance of aggravation” that Ezy Accounting 123 had been “knowingly involved in conduct that constitutes illegality”.

“Ezy was not subject to direction by (Blue Impression) as an employee,” Judge O’Sullivan said.

“Ezy was involved in a relationship with (Blue Impression) where it provided payroll services.

“As such it must put compliance with the law ahead of business interests. Ezy had a responsibility to ensure there was compliance with, inter alia, the FW Act.”

Related stories:
SIM card provider faces legal action for underpayment
7-Eleven franchisee accused of terminating employee who didn’t repay leave entitlements
New law passed to ‘protect vulnerable workers’

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