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Great dumplings, but the payroll department could do with a shake-up

Popular dumpling chain Din Tai Fung and two of its managers have been hit with $4 million in fines for deliberately underpaying workers and attempting to cover it up.

Apr 10, 2024, updated Apr 10, 2024
Chefs from Taipei-based global chain Din Tai Fung make hand made dumplings during the travel expo at Darling Harbour in Sydney, Saturday, March 14, 2009. (AAP Image/Jenny Evans) NO ARCHIVING

Chefs from Taipei-based global chain Din Tai Fung make hand made dumplings during the travel expo at Darling Harbour in Sydney, Saturday, March 14, 2009. (AAP Image/Jenny Evans) NO ARCHIVING

The Taiwanese restaurant chain has been ordered by the Federal Court to pay $3.89 million, while its general manager Hannah Handoko was fined $92,232 and human relations manager Sinthiana Parmenas $105,084.

The proceedings brought by the Fair Work Ombudsman related to at least 17 workers at the chain’s Sydney and Melbourne restaurants during a four year period from July 2014 to June 2018.

The bulk of the contraventions took place between November 2017 and June 2018.

But affected workers, who were underpaid amounts ranging from $2300 to more than $50,000, may not recoup all their lost earnings as the company went into administration after the Federal Court proceedings began.

Justice Anna Katzmann on Tuesday ruled the employers, along with senior management, deliberately deprived the workers of their legislated entitlements and disguised their wrongdoing through a false set of records.

Staff were forced to work unreasonable hours and were being underpaid with no penalties or overtime rates.

Justice Katzmann said employees required to work more than 38 hours a week had to do so on multiple occasions, some every week of the year.

The company covered up their actions by deliberately creating false payslips, timesheets and providing their staff with the false documents.

“The contravening conduct was not isolated, ad hoc or inadvertent,” the justice said.

Of the 17 workers affected, 16 were under the age of 30 and 15 were migrants on a range of temporary visas, including student visas.

“All of these employees are fairly characterised as vulnerable,” she said.

“It goes without saying that the respondents’ conduct was extremely serious.”

Justice Katzmann described the actions as “not merely deliberate wrongdoing” but “deceitful and unscrupulous”.

“It involved a calculated scheme to rob employees of their hard-earned wages and deceive the authorities.”

Underpayments continued even while the ombudsman was investigating the claims.

The court heard visa holders were deliberately hired over Australian citizens to avoid their business practices coming to the attention of authorities.

One impacted worker said he was told by a manager that hiring an Australian citizen could result in them “reporting us to Gov department” if they were not happy with the payments.

The company in February 2018 was employing more than 400 workers with an annual turnover for the previous financial year of $7.25 million and a gross payroll of over $3.5 million.

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