By Tom Tuite
A restaurateur has been spared jail but was fined €10,000 for obstructing an inspection of his employment records.
Dublin District Court heard that an inspector from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) feared he was going to be punched or would get a headbutt.
Tropica M & J Limited, trading as the Tropica restaurant, with an address at 3C Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin faced charges of obstructing WRC inspectors and failing to comply with their requirements.
Its director Mr Xiao Jin Xu, with an address at Southpoint, Main Street, Bray, Co Wicklow, was accused of related charges of conniving to obstruct the inspection but had no prior conviction and was spared a possible 12-month sentence.
Mr Xu and the company were each fined €10,000 and ordered to pay a total of €600 in legal costs.
He was not present for the hearing at Dublin District Court, however, Judge John Brennan held the director and his company were aware of the proceedings, and he allowed the case proceed in their absence.
WRC inspector Sergei Bakirov told the court he was carrying out unnanounced compliance checks in relation to workers who may have been non-EU nationals with no employment permits.
He said he also intended to inspect other documents in relation to rates of pay, annual leave and holiday payments.
On June 15 last year, he called to the Tropica restaurant at 3C Castle Street, Dalkey, and introduced himself to Xu and told him he wanted to interview his employees.
Revenue officials and gardaí were also present for the inspection at the Asian food restaurant. The revenue officials were permitted entry but the WRC officials were not allowed go into the kitchen to interview staff, the court heard.
He told Judge Brennan he wanted to go into the kitchen but was not allowed and Xu blocked their way. Mr Bakirov said Xu started pushing him and put his hands on him.
A garda explained to him that the inspector was doing his job but Xu said he did not he not care, Mr Bakirov told the court.
He said he was pushed to the exit. The WRC inspector said he cautioned Xu that for compliance with employment legislation he needed to see the restaurant’s records and interview the staff.
He alleged Xu was verbally aggressive to him and his WRC colleague Leonard Carrigan.
He alleged that despite gardaí being present he was pushed several times and was let speak to Xu’s employees.
He said he cautioned him formally but Xu responded, “I don’t care”.
Mr Bakirov said he felt unsafe because Xu was aggressive. He claimed the accused was yelling at him and he was afraid the restaurateur was going to throw a punch at him or headbutt him.
After 30 minutes a female came out to him and produced some paperwork of staff allegedly on the premises but he was not allowed talk to them.
WRC inspector Leonard Carrigan had been outside at a side door in the event any employees tried to leave. He told the hearing that after a while he decided to enter the restaurant and he witnessed Xu shouting at his colleague to “get out”.
Prosecuting solicitor Edel Muldowney told the court it was a serious matter and the defendants failed to comply with the requests. She submitted that it went beyond that; there was a level of physical abuse, Xu acted agressively and the WRC offical feared for his safety.
The solicitor said that clearly this was not a “once off” and she asked the court to note evidence given that during another spot check in 2016 Xu was also aggressive but no prosecution was brought over that incident.