A man who told his employee to "seriously, f**k off" after the worker complained about being ripped off has copped a hefty fine.
Michael Patrick Pulis was slugged with a A$21,500 ($23,279) penalty, while his company, Pulis Plumbing Pty Ltd, was hit with a further A$100,000 fine.
Judge Grant Riethmuller found the employee — a 20-year-old plumber's labourer — had been underpaid by A$26,882 for work done in Melbourne, Geelong and Bendigo in Victoria over a period of just three months in late 2014.
Judge Riethmuller slammed Pulis for his "outrageous exploitation of a young person" and said his conduct had been "nothing short of avarice".
Pulis paid the man an apprentice rate of just A$12.18 per hour despite not having actually signed him up as an apprentice — which meant he was entitled to a far higher hourly rate of A$37.08 for ordinary hours and up to A$74.16 an hour for overtime.
Because the Fair Work Ombudsman had previously warned Pulis that labourer rates must be paid unless an apprenticeship arrangement was formally registered, Judge Riethmuller found the underpayments had been deliberate.
The worker had only been paid one-fifth of what he was entitled to, and he also missed out on meal and travel allowances as well as leave and termination entitlements.
The employee worked 10- to 12-hour days and was never given feedback about his work, however, after three months on the job Mr Pulis told him his skills were not at a second-year apprentice level.
When the man asked his boss when he would be paid his wages, he was told: "Seriously, f**k off. When I'm ready."
"The conduct is worse than simply underpaying an employee who has had difficulty obtaining work elsewhere, as the respondents also held out the lure of an apprenticeship to this young man: a particularly significant career and life goal for a young person who is not academically inclined," Judge Riethmuller said.
"The amount of the underpayment, in comparison to the payments actually made, is significant.
"Remarkably, five of his previous apprentices were employed for less than 100 days."
The judge said an apprenticeship was supposed to involve mentoring and training and that "in this sense, the employer is in a position of trust with respect to the apprentice".
"A further loss on the part of the employee in this case is that the time working for the respondents cannot be counted against his apprenticeship because of the failure to sign and lodge the appropriate documentation."
The young man was back-paid only after the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced legal action.
Pulis and his company were also found to have breached record-keeping and pay slip laws and failed to comply with a Notice to Produce records issued by a Fair Work inspector.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the conduct could only be described as deliberate.
"It is simply unacceptable to exploit any worker in such a way and the conduct is even more abhorrent when you consider the response the worker received for doing nothing more than asking for what he was lawfully entitled to," James said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman's newly released Record My Hours smartphone app has been designed to help vulnerable young workers such as the labourer in question.
It uses geofencing technology to provide workers with a record of the time they spend at their workplace, and it can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.