Record fine for WA metalwork company paying workers $3 an hour

A metalwork company in Western Australia has been charged a record penalty and ordered to repay with interest the tradesmen it paid less than $3 an hour.

Kentwood Industries was fined $123 000 yesterday for its treatment of five migrant workers.

Managing Director Jian Zhang was also fined an additional $24 600.

The West Australian reports the Chinese nationals worked up to 11 hours a day, six to seven days a week between 2006 and 2007.

Each of the men were underpaid individually by $28 000 to $69 000 and together they will receive the $242 000 they are owed, plus an additional $65 000 in interest.

The workers have since returned to China.

The West Australian first exposed the case in February 2007 and say it is a warming to other companies which might be exploiting migrant workers employed on 457 visas.

Justice Neil McKerracher told The West it was a "serious course of sustained and conscious underpayment" to the "severe detriment of a vulnerable group of low-paid employees".

"Given the vulnerability of subclass 457 visa migrant workers in the Australian community, general deterrence is particularly important," he said.

"Although it appears Mr Zhang no longer resides in Australia, Kentwood continues to conduct business in Australia and Mr Zhang remains a director of Kentwood.

Executive Director of the Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said the high penalty was appropriate for the level of exploitation the workers suffered.

Four of the experienced tradesmen paid up to $2 500 each for a job in Perth and to arrange their visas.

They also had to wait up to five months to receive their first pay.

"This type of behaviour is completely unacceptable to every decent Australian and deserves complete condemnation," Campbell said.

The men worked on residential building projects in Perth, a Chinese garden of remembrance in Kalgoorlie and a Chinese temple at the Springvale Cemetery in Melbourne.

They had to share a room in the home of a Melbourne colleague and some slept on the floor, according to The West.

The huge fine far exceeds the previous record penalty of $85 750 handed down to construction company Hanssen for breaching workplace rights of 15 subclass 457 visa holders from the Philippines and Ireland.

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