Workers were allegedly paid with food and drink at a Brisbane café, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The regulator has commenced legal action against the employer for allegedly underpaying 32 workers more than $36,000.
Workers allegedly paid with food and drink
Facing the Federal Circuit Court is 63 Racecourse Rd Pty Ltd, which operated the ‘Café 63 Racecourse Rd’ in Hamilton Central.
Also facing court is the company’s sole director and shareholder, Hamish Watson.
Fair Work alleges that in August 2017, Watson underpaid his staff various rates and entitlements totalling $36,663.
The regulator also alleges that between November 2017 and January 2018, Watson and the café partially paid workers with food and drink.
They employed the workers using Individual Flexibility Agreements (IFAs) which provided for flat hourly rates and ‘allowances’, instead of paying proper penalty rates and overtime rates.
The ‘allowances’ in the IFAs included a daily allowance of food and drink up to the value of $35 a day, including $20 in meals and $15 in drinks.
It is unlawful to be paid with food and drink.
The Fair Work Act requires employers to pay their employees with money.
The affected workers were mainly migrants working on visas as waiters, cooks and kitchen attendants.
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Migrant workers vulnerable
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation.
“Many overseas workers do not know their workplace rights, or might struggle with language barriers,” he said.
“In addition, many migrant workers here on visas are frightened to speak out because they fear being kicked out of the country.
“This makes them perfect candidates for exploitation by greedy bosses who want to steal their wages.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said compliance in the hospitality industry is a focus for her agency.
She encouraged any migrant workers with concerns about their pay or conditions to contact her agency.
“All workers in Australia have the same rights at work regardless of nationality or visa status.”
As a result of the alleged underpayments, 63 Racecourse Rd Pty Ltd faces maximum penalties of $63,000 for each breach.
Meanwhile, Watson faces maximum penalties of $12,600 for each breach.
Fair Work is also seeking a court order requiring Watson to back-pay employees in full.
The Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane has a directions hearing listed on 16 October 2020.
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