Serious fine for Coffee Club franchisee who forced worker to pay back wages
A former Coffee Club franchisee has been fined $180,000 after forcing a worker to repay $18,000 in wages.
The worker, who had been employed on a 457 visa, was also underpaid his minimum hourly rates, casual loading, annual leave entitlements, overtime rates, payment in lieu of notice of termination and weekend and public holiday penalty rates during his employment at the Nundah Village Shopping Centre Coffee Club.
The franchisee had threatened the worker with cancellation of his visa if he did not pay back the $18,000 of wages in what Federal Circuit Court Judge Michael Jarrett called “an inappropriate and grotesque exploitation of the power imbalance between [the franchisee] and the worker”.
As reported in The Brisbane Times (19 June 2017) the Judge said “[the worker] was in a bind. He could not leave his employment because if he did so he would breach a condition of his visa and his ability to remain in Australia would be seriously compromised. He was effectively working for nothing.’’
IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary Brad Hayes said the case was just another example of an endemic culture of exploiting employees that has been uncovered across Australia in recent high-profile cases such as 7-Eleven.
“From big businesses to celebrity chefs, the last 12 months have been littered with cases of what is effectively wage theft by employers preying on the most vulnerable workers,” Mr Hayes said.
In the case of 7-Eleven, Fair Work Ombudsman investigation uncovered that employers had doctored payroll records and threated international student workers with deportation to cover up these gross injustices.
“Every worker in Australia is entitled to receive their minimum terms and conditions under the Fair Work Act including the minimum wage”.
Mr Hayes said this latest example highlighted just how ruthless employers can be towards workers, especially those in industries with relatively low union membership levels or where workers, including those on visas, may not be familiar with their working rights and the protection union membership provides.
“Each time such a case is uncovered, our movement must shine a light on such shameful employer activity – not only to tell them that such action will not be tolerated but to reiterate to workers the value and importance of being part of their union,” he said.