Backpackers in Australia are being reminded that they have the same working rights as others after it was revealed that two Melbourne businessmen paid themselves wages of $500,000, but those on holiday visas were paid nothing.

The men, Jonathan Stielow and Claudio Locaso, have been fined $11,880 each by a court after admitting a company they formerly owned and operated underpaid eight employees a total of $14,964.

studentbackpackersThe penalties were imposed in the Federal Circuit Court following an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman of their now defunct marketing and distribution company, Invivo Group.

Seven of the eight employees were overseas workers in Australia with 417 working holiday visas, including three young people aged 19 and 20 at the time. The other underpaid employee was an Australian university student.

The 'job' was as door to door sales people offering free power boards to households in line with the Invivo Group having been contracted by Melbourne company, Energy Efficient Technologies, to install power boards in homes as part of the Victorian Government's Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Scheme.

Stielow and Locaso admitted breaching workplace laws by paying seven of the workers nothing despite them working between 50 and 117 hours. They paid the other worker just 16% of his lawful entitlements.

The court judgment said that there had been "serious exploitation of young and vulnerable workers, including students and foreign backpackers." The court heard that the Fair Work Ombudsman discovered the underpayments when it investigated requests for assistance lodged by workers.

"We place a high priority on taking action to protect the rights of overseas workers in Australia because they are often not fully aware of their workplace rights and can be reluctant to complain," said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is currently taking legal action against Locaso and another marketing and distribution business he owned and operated, the Syndicate Group, over allegations of underpayments to four employees.

The Fair Work Ombudsman wants backpackers to realise that they should not be working for nothing and should be paid the minimum wage even if offered free accommodation. It has seen an increase in the number of requests for assistance coming from visa holders working in Australia.

In August last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa programme after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers.