According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, an Albury café owner allegedly coerced two Indian workers into paying thousands of dollars cash in return for visa support.
The two young cooks were allegedly escorted by café owner, Fares Ghazale, on a weekly basis to a local ATM to withdraw cash and then ordered repay him large amounts of their wage – threatening to withdraw his support for their visas if they refused.
One employee was allegedly required to repay Ghazale more than $11,000 over a period of several months in amounts ranging from $550 to $940 a week, while the second employee was coerced into repaying more than $10,000 cash through weekly repayments ranging from $200 to $700.
One of the employees allegedly told Ghazale that he could no longer surrender his weekly wages to which Ghazale allegedly responded by shouting at him and demanding $500 cash each week if he wanted to get the visa. Ghazale also allegedly took hold of the worker by the collar during the exchange. The alleged conduct was reported to Albury police.
It is alleged the cook continued working at the café and provided cash on a weekly basis to Ghazale.
When the second cook complained about the payments, Ghazale allegedly threatened that he would “contact Immigration” if the money wasn’t paid.
Expressing concern for the alleged coercive behaviour, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James has put the matter before Court. Both Ghazale and his company Rubee Enterprises Pty Ltd are now facing legal proceedings.
According to Fair Work, Ghazale formerly owned and operated Albury’s Canteen Cuisine café until it closed last September. Documents lodged in the Federal Court in Sydney allege that Ghazale was involved in multiple breaches of workplace laws.
In addition to the alleged underpayment of the Indian visa-holders, Fair Work inspectors allegedly found three Australian citizens employed at the café had also been underpaid their wages and entitlements.
The Fair Work Ombudsman says a waitress was underpaid $11,273, a cook $8946 and an apprentice cook $6766.
Allegations in the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Statement of Claim include coercion, adverse action, providing false records and underpaying five employees more than $87,000.
Mr Ghazale and Rubee Enterprises allegedly knowingly provided false time-and-wages records to Fair Work inspectors and failed to issue payslips to employees.
Mr Ghazale faces maximum penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention and Rubee Enterprises faces maximum penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention. The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking a Court Order for the company to back-pay the workers in full.