The owner of a well-known inner-city Sydney cafe has been fined almost $100,000 for operating an illegal cash-back scheme designed to rip off one of his workers.
Tibor Vertes, who runs the Coluzzi cafe in Darlinghurst, was penalised $9,720 and his company Robit Nominees was penalised a further $87,345 after admitting in the Federal Circuit Court that he had contravened workplace laws.
Vertes made cook pay back wages
Mr Vertes made the worker, a cook from Italy, pay back $218 in cash each week after she was paid, telling her the money was needed to pay tax and superannuation contributions.
In total, the cook was made to pay back $13,952 of her wages over a 15-month period.
The worker didn’t complain because she was afraid of losing her job, and being sent back to Italy – at the time the cafe was sponsoring her on a 457 skilled worker visa.
In addition to the cash-back scheme, Mr Vertes underpaid the worker’s overtime and penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work, and also underpaid her annual leave entitlements.
In total, the worker was ripped off a total of $39,686.
Need to send a strong message to restaurant industry
Judge Nicholas Manousaridis said the worker had lost a significant amount of money over a significant amount of time.
“The manner in which the Weekly Repayments were paid suggested it was a scheme established to create the false impression that [the worker] was being paid her lawful entitlements,” Judge Manousaridis said.
“The scheme was implemented in relation to an employee who was vulnerable because she relied on Robit Nominees to remain in Australia.”
Judge Manousaridis said Vertes and his company had expressed no contrition and found that there was “a need to send a strong message to the restaurant industry in which Mr Vertes works.”
Cash-back schemes ‘a cruel form of wage theft’
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, said cash-back schemes were a particularly cruel form of wage theft.
“It’s a really sneaky way employers steal from the employees, because according to the books, they have paid the worker their proper wage and entitlements, but in reality, they are literally stealing the money back from them,” he said.
“If you are a young vulnerable worker, or an international worker, you might be too afraid to complain, so you’re left with no choice but to hand the money over.
“How dare this operator exploit this cook the way he did – it was deliberate, and was driven by nothing but greed.”
Mr Vertes has now back-paid the worker in full.
If you are not being paid your correct wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on
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