The owner of a cafe in regional New South Wales has been hit with a record $533,000 penalty for running an illegal cash back scheme and making death threats to workers if they didn’t pay up.
The judge described the treatment of the Indian employees as “grossly exploitative” and the conduct of their boss as “highly aggravating and extremely serious”.
Fares Ghazale, who is known as Frank, (pictured) formerly owned the Canteen Cuisine cafe in Albury.
He was penalised $88,810 while his company Rubee Enterprises has been penalised a further $444,100 for operating the illegal cash-back scheme.
‘If anything happens to my business, I will kill you’
One of the workers, who was employed on an approved 457 visa, was forced to repay Ghazale $11,050 from his wages over a number of months in amounts varying from $450 to $940 a week.
He coerced him to go to an ATM to withdraw cash, and threatened to “contact Immigration” if he complained.
The worker told the court that Ghazale told him:
“If anything happens to my business, I will kill you. If you complain to anyone, I will kill you and cancel your visa.”
Ghazale forced a second Indian employee to repay him $10,680 in cash through weekly repayments ranging from $360 to $2000 one week.
When the worker said he couldn’t afford the payments, he said that Ghazale yelled at him and dragged him by the collar and tried to punch him.
After the incident, the cook continued working at the cafe, making weekly payments of $500 to Ghazale.
Ghazale also failed to pay the legal minimum wage and entitlements to other staff.
A waitress was underpaid $11,273, and an apprentice cook $6,766.
Maree owed nearly $9,000
Employee Maree Garratt was underpaid nearly $9,000 over seven months.
Ms Garratt told The Border Mail she had given up any hopes of getting it back but had nothing against Ghazale.
“Honest to God, I don’t care,” she said.
“I’ve just gotten on with my life. If I was to dwell on it, it would make my stomach ache.”
Deliberate strategy of deceit to hide contraventions of workplace laws
Judge Tom Altobelli described the cash-back scam as part of a “deliberate strategy of deceit to hide the ongoing contraventions of workplace laws”.
He described the treatment of the Indian workers as “grossly exploitative” and the conduct was “highly aggravating and extremely serious” and “particularly saddening”.
“[Ghazale] exploited his position of power to extract significant sums from each of the employees, and in effect, pay them wages as low as $6 an hour.
“It is also highly, aggravating that [Ghazale] used violence, and threats of violence, to obtain the repayments.
“The Court should send a message to Australian employers that there is a single set of workplace protections in Australia that provide a safety net to all employees, regardless of their visa status.”
Penalties should serve as a warning to all employers
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Industrial Relations Claims, said the case should serve as a warning to all employers thinking of stealing from their workers.
“This judgement shows that the Fair Work Act has significant teeth for bosses who exploit their workers, he said.
“Since the 7-Eleven underpayments rorts were exposed, a new class of worker has been identified – the vulnerable worker – and employers caught out exploiting them will cop eye watering penalties that would nearly guarantee insolvency for any business that they run.”
In addition to the penalties, Ghazale was ordered by the court to back-pay the five employees in full.
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