She was working for an employer who recruited working holidaymakers wanting to stay in Australia for two years.
The Fair Work Ombudsman announced legal action against the employer, who allegedly paid the backpacker $270 for four weeks’ work.
Facing court is Harold William Jackson, who owns and operates Harold’s Glass and Hardware and the adjacent Rhythm & Vines café and bakery in Queenstown.
The backpacker, an Italian woman in her 20s, allegedly agreed to work for Jackson in September 2013 after he promised to sign off on her second-year 417 visa application.
The 417 is a temporary visa issued by the Department of Immigration & Border Protection (DIPB) to young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to two years.
To be eligible to apply for a second year, 417 visa-holders must undertake 88 days’ specified work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.
Jackson allegedly also underpaid four other backpackers from the UK and Japan.
Documents lodged by the Fair Work Ombudsman with the Federal Circuit Court allege the backpackers worked for Jackson for periods ranging from one week to four months and received irregular payments equivalent to rates of between $2.43 and $5.38 an hour.
Two of the backpackers were apparently recruited through advertisements Jackson placed on the Gumtree website stating that “88 day second year work visa sign off is available”.
The five backpackers, all aged in their 20s, were allegedly underpaid a total of $42,985. Individual underpayments are said to range from $1026 to $19,097.
The Fair Work Ombudsman says the backpackers were entitled to be paid more than $22 an hour for normal hours worked and up to $32 an hour for some weekend work.
Jackson engaged them to perform duties including sales, cleaning, labouring and construction.
The Ombudsman investigated the matter after receiving a complaint from one of the backpackers.
Ombudsman Natalie James says inspectors made extensive efforts to engage with Jackson to try to resolve the matter without going to court, but were unable to secure sufficient co-operation.
Mr Jackson allegedly told Fair Work inspectors that the backpackers were “guests” or “volunteers”, rather than employees.
Jackson also allegedly failed to respond to a contravention letter issued in June requesting that the underpayments be rectified.
He faces maximum penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention.
The Ombudsman is also seeking a Court Order for Jackson to back-pay the workers in full.
The website smartcompany.com.au reports Jackson as claiming the FWO claims as unfounded, reporting him as saying, “Those bastards. It’s not true,” continuing, “The worst thing is to defend, it is going to cost me an arm and a leg. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars and they know small business people like myself don’t have that money.”