If we had a Fair Work Ombudsman in Malaysia as that of Australia, we may see our fair share of what happened to the popular Malaysian food chain in Sydney.
And it would not be only those mamak restaurants that would get it, but also many of those who hire migrant workers, as that is the majority of workers in the restaurant industry in Malaysia – from the cooks to the washers to the waiters.
It was recently reported that an Australian court has fined a popular Malaysian food chain in Sydney A$300,000 (RM920,747) for short-changing its employees and using false records to disguise the underpayment.
The Star quoted Business Insider Australia, stating that the Australian Federal Court ruled that Mamak Restaurant on Goulburn Street, Haymarket (a suburb of Sydney), had conducted “informal market research into pay rates on the black market” and had underpaid its workers deliberately to maximise profits.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman, an independent statutory agency that investigates workplace complaints and enforces compliance with national workplace laws, took legal action against the business in January.
“This was after it had discovered that six employees of the restaurant were collectively underpaid more than A$87,000 (RM267,046), earning as little as A$11 (RM33.76) between February 2012 and April 2015.
“Judge Justin Smith handed out fines for three of its owners – Joon Hoe Lee, Julian Lee and Alan Wing-Keung Au – amounting to A$36,992 (RM113,534), A$35,360 (RM108,525) and A$35,360 (RM108,525) respectively. Their company Mamak Pty Ltd was penalised a total of A$184,960 (RM567,671),” stated the report.
In Malaysian urban areas, where people eat out a lot, mamak restaurants is the go-to place for cheap and good food.
Little do many of us realise that the waiters from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are paid not very much different from the amount they would be paid back home, only a wee bit more. The salaries come nowhere near the Malaysian minimum wage of RM1,000.
Many are on their feet from dawn to dawn and may get an off day once a week, for them to recuperate. Otherwise, they are standing to serve the customers and squatting to wash the dirty plates.
When asked of their working situation, they would argue that they are better off than their Indonesian counterparts who have to work under the hot sun on construction sites. They would also say that at least they get their meals.
However, the leg pain is there and more have come here since Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates cut down on visas for workers from these countries recently. Those places are their first choice but visas and permits and middlemen are expensive.
These workers will not complain, but it is saddening that there are no proper organisations representing these migrant workers working in restaurants, the same case for those in other industries.
If anything happens – such as abuse, or non payment, or low salaries, they would have to risk it all by going to NGOs – with them ending up probably being deported or staying in the country jobless or as illegals as their furious local employers refuse to sponsor them anymore.
Thus, while we Malaysians hang our head in shame (nevertheless applauding) the penalty against the Mamak Restaurant chain in Australia, perhaps it is time to see what is happening in our frontyard as we eat our roti canai and sip our teh tarik.