An Indonesian fishing crew has been underpaid almost $50,000.
An Indonesian fishing crew has been underpaid almost $50,000. Che Chapman

Fisher who exploited Indonesian fishing crew fined $48,000

A SUNSHINE Coast-based fishing company with ships working along the coast as far south as Sydney has been fined almost $50,000 for underpaying four Indonesian crew members.

Australian Wild Tuna, which recently changed its name to Stella Del Mare, copped a $43,200 penalty for underpaying the 457 visa workers a total of $43,481.

Company director and manager Angelo Maiorana was also ordered to shell out $5120 for his role in the underpayments.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said a portion of the fines would go directly to the crew members, who had already been partially back-paid.

"We treat underpayment of overseas workers particularly seriously because they can be vulnerable if they are unaware of their rights or reluctant to complain," she said.

The workers - three deckhands and an engineer - worked aboard two tuna fishing vessels, the Santo Rocco and the Challenge, in waters between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast between July 2012 and June 2013.

The Santo Rocco primarily docked in NSW and the Challenge usually docked in Queensland, although court documents do not give specific dock locations.

"The information we have is that the boats worked in waters off the East Coast from Sydney right up to the Sunshine Coast," a FWO spokesman said.

The underpayments ranged from $7113 to $12,604, resulting from a regular failure to pay employees' minimum wages and illegal docking of wages.

Record-keeping and pay slip laws were also contravened.

Judge Nicholas Manousaridis said Maiorana had promised his crew outstanding wages would be paid in full once the company's financial difficulties were resolved, but he acted unreasonably in believing he would be able to pay the shortfall.

The penalty imposed should "signal to the community not only the importance of employers complying with their obligations to pay the correct amount of wages; it should also signal the importance of employers complying with such obligations even at times when the employer's business faces financial stress," Judge Manousaridis said.

A Federal Senate inquiry in March labelled the exploitation of temporary work visa holders a "national disgrace" following a joint Four Corners and Fairfax investigation into widespread deliberate falsification of employment records - including the claim up to 60% of 7-Eleven franchisee staff were underpaid.

It prompted the SDA, the union for retail, fast-food and warehouse workers, to call on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to heed the inquiry's recommendations for reform across all industries.

"We can't allow this to be swept under the rug," SDA national secretary Gerard Dyer said.

"The prime minister has been completely silent in the face of overwhelming evidence of appalling exploitation that has been allowed to continue on his watch."