The owners of a western Sydney restaurant are facing court action after allegedly underpaying an Indian worker more than $150,000.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has described the alleged conduct as “extremely serious and completely unacceptable”.
Facing court are Rekha Thakadiyal Joseph and Jijo Thiruvankavil Esahac, who owned and operated the Blue Moon Indian restaurant, located at Wentworthville.
They sponsored the Indian worker who was aged in his 20s to work in the kitchen at the restaurant on a 457 skilled worker visa between December 2013 and April 2016, on a contractual salary of $54,000.
Fair Work alleges the worker was paid cash-in-hand wages equating to only $400 to $450 a week, despite generally working 11-12 hours a day, six days a week.
The result was the employer was allegedly underpaid ordinary hourly rates, overtime rates and penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work.
His leave entitlements were also allegedly underpaid.
Bank account opened to disguise underpayments
To disguise the underpayments, Ms Jospeh opened a bank account in the worker’s name, and deposited amounts that were consistent with his contractual salary.
Fair Work alleges that for the majority of the man’s employment, Ms Joseph and Mr Esahac maintained control of the account, including retaining the bank card and making a number of withdrawals from the account.
Ms Joseph and Mr Esahac are also accused of breaching laws relating to cash-back arrangements by requiring the worker to repay part of his wages towards the end of his employment.
It’s also alleged that Ms Joseph and Mr Esahac breached workplace laws by failing to provide pay slips, and keeping false or misleading records and providing them to Fair Work inspectors.
Migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims said migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
“When workers come from overseas, they may not know their rights, there might be language barriers, and they might be scared they will have their visa cancelled if they speak up or complain, and dodgy bosses know this and take advantage of it,” he said.
“While the court will need to determine the facts of this particular case, if the allegations are proven, then it is one of the most appalling and repugnant cases of worker exploitation I have seen.”
Bosses face substantial penalties
Ms Joseph and Mr Esahac are facing penalties of up to $12,600 and $10,800 respectively per contravention.
In addition, Fair Work wants the court to order Ms Joseph and Mr Esahac to back-pay the worker, plus interest.
A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Circuit Court later this month.
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
1300 045 466