In April 2015, Mr and Mrs Choong’s wallets took a whopping $175,400 hit after the Federal Court ordered their company to pay the largest-ever civil penalty for breaching sponsorship obligations under the subclass 457 visa program. Just five weeks later, the Choongs were ordered to pay a further $125,956 to reimburse the Filipino workers their company severely ripped off for over 3 years.
Between 2009 and 2012, Mr and Mrs Choong of ‘Choong Enterprises’ sponsored 10 Filipino workers to work in a number of their fast food restaurants and cafes in Darwin. Earlier in April, the Federal Court found that Choong Enterprises had breached their sponsorship obligations by paying their 457 workers a measly (and illegal) $12 an hour when they were, at times, made to work 60 hour weeks.
Choong Enterprises had also failed to pay sick leave entitlements and extra rates for working overtime and on public holidays. If that wasn’t enough, the real nail(s) in the coffin was the Federal Court’s finding that the company had knowingly produced false pay records, illegally recovered the costs of migration agent fees from some of the visa holders and had failed to comply with numerous record keeping obligations. The company was ordered to pay $175,400 in pecuniary penalties. Mr Choong was individually ordered to pay $800 for aiding the company’s breach of its sponsorship obligations, in particular, for failing to ensure that the terms and conditions provided to a sponsored employee were no less favorable than those that would have applied to an Australian performing equivalent work.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection subsequently sought orders that Choong Enterprises reimburse the sponsored employees for the underpayment of their wages. On 4 June 2015, the company was ordered to pay a further $125,956 in reimbursements.
The department has announced that a new taskforce is due to commence from 1 July 2015 which will crack down on worker exploitation and visa fraud. Big Brother is indeed watching – the Choong’s hefty penalty should send a clear warning that sponsors are being monitored and will pay an expensive price if they do not take their sponsorship obligations seriously.