Working in a restaurant is popular with newly arrivals in Australia, including students and backpackers, but more evidence is coming to light that they are being exploited.

It is not just obscure restaurants where there may be fewer checks, but well known outlets in big cities where the Fair Work Ombudsman is finding that overseas workers on working holiday and student visas are being underpaid.

(Wavebreak Media Ltd/​

This group of workers may not always know what the going rate of pay is, having newly arrived in the country, and they are open to exploitation, the ombudsman is warning.

In the latest case the operator of two popular Melbourne restaurants is facing court after a raid conducted as part of a joint-operation allegedly discovered 30 employees had been underpaid almost $31,000 over a period of just two weeks.

The FWO has begun legal action against the owners of Tina's Noodle Kitchen and Dainty Sichuan and an in-house accountant is also facing court for allegedly being an accessory to underpayment and record keeping contraventions.

Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors and Department of Immigration and Border Protection officers made unannounced visits to the restaurants last year as part of a joint activity. They spoke with workers and managers and exercised their powers under the Fair Work Act to take copies of time and wages records.

They allegedly found that a total of 30 employees across the two restaurants were paid flat rates ranging from $10 to $22 an hour, despite some employees working six or seven days a week, and more than 10 hours per day. This allegedly led to significant underpayment of the minimum hourly rates and penalty rates for weekend, public holiday, overtime and late night work the employees were entitled to under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Mark Scully said that the Fair Work Ombudsman is committed to improving compliance in the hospitality industry and focused on ensuring culturally and linguistically diverse business operators understand and comply with Australian workplace laws.

'It is not okay for employers to arbitrarily determine low, flat rates of pay. Minimum wage rates apply to everyone in Australia, including visa holders, and they are not negotiable,' he pointed out.

Scully explained that managerial staff should also be aware that the Fair Work Ombudsman is prepared to take legal action against anyone allegedly involved in operating a business model that involves the exploitation of workers.

'This can include human resources and payroll officers, line managers, accountants and advisors,' he added.