Melbourne travel agent underpaid workers

A Melbourne travel agency has been prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombusdman for underpaying workers.
A Melbourne travel agency has been prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombusdman for underpaying workers.

A Melbourne travel agency and one of its directors have been fined almost $400,000 for underpaying two Korean workers as a "condition" of their visa sponsorship.

Abella Travel Pty Ltd, which operates travel agencies in Melbourne and Korea, has been fined $332,100 and its director Joung Hyung Lee slapped with a $66,420 bill in the Federal Circuit Court.

Lee admitted making a migrant worker pay back more than $20,000 of her wages between 2013 and 2015, the Fair Work Ombudsman said on Friday.

He and Abella had a similar cashback scheme with a second migrant worker. They also provided false records and failed to pay one of the employees properly.

The total wages taken from the two employees was $37,464.29 but the money has since been paid back.

Lee told both workers the arrangements were a "condition" of the company sponsoring them on 457 visas, the ombudsman said.

One of the workers had to share a bedroom in a share-house, borrow money from her family and sometimes couldn't afford public transport due to the underpayments.

Inspectors investigated the matter after one of the Korean workers contacted them.

Judge Heather Riley found Abella Travel and Lee were "recidivists" and that Lee "targeted vulnerable people and exploited them for his own financial benefit".

"The respondents' level of dishonesty is such in this case that I cannot be confident that they will not contravene again," she said.

The company and Lee previously agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking after they unpaid a Korean person more than $4200, breached record-keeping and pay slip laws.

Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers who deliberately breached the law after agreeing to the undertaking should be punished.

"It is unlawful for employers to ask for cashback from your wages and any workers with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact us," she said on Friday.

Australian Associated Press