Malaysian Gets Costly Lesson on Proper Wages

Posted on May 15, 2009


Malaysia’s The Star daily today featured a report on a restaurant owner who has been fined by the Melbourne Magistrate’s court for underpaying his employees. Hong Poh Meng, owner of Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar Ltd which operates a restaurant here, Kayu@Boxhill, was fined A$180,000 for breaching 11 Australian work place laws. These include paying a chef brought over from Malaysia less than A$10,000 over 18 months, which amounts to a staggering underpayment of A$76,000 or less than 12% of the minimum amount the man was entitled to. In addition, two 19-year-old casual waitresses were underpaid A$4876 and A$899.

Among the Malaysian international student community here there is widespread perception that Asian employers, including Malaysians, will generally underpay their workers, and the working conditions will not be as hospitable as would be expected in businesses run by Australians. However, for many students they have little choice but to endure those conditions because 1) they need the money; 2) many restaurants in the Melbourne CBD are run by Asian employers; 3) the students are not able to meet the language expectations of Australian proprietors.

I was fortunate enough to work for an Australian food business during my student days that paid above the minimum rate and provided excellent working conditions for its staff. My experience should not be the exception, rather the standard for the food service industry in a country as prosperous as Australia. Hopefully this court outcome will serve as a reminder to other businesses to treat their employees with the respect they deserve.