Employee held at ransom in illegal pay back scheme

A former Brisbane Coffee Club franchisee has been fined more than $180,000 for forcing an overseas worker to pay back $18,000 in wages in cash.

Threatening to cancel the worker’s 457 skilled worker visa if he didn’t comply, the owner essentially held the worker at ransom. It wasn’t until the worker was terminated without notice that they contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman, subsequently bringing the case to light.

Overall, the worker was underpaid a total of $23,546. He has now been back-paid in full. Judge Michael Jarrett said that “The exploitation of workers from other countries who are inspired to live and work in Australia with the hope of achieving permanent residency needs to be discouraged, in the strongest of terms whenever it is apparent that it has occurred. This is one of those cases, [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.”

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the penalties imposed send a message about the seriousness of exploiting the vulnerability of visa holders.

“We will do everything within our power to pursue any employer who thinks they can exploit the power imbalance they have over migrant workers they employ,” Ms James said. “Any unscrupulous employer tempted to engage in this sort of conduct should think again because there are serious consequences for this type of behaviour.”

This is just another example of business owners getting it wrong. While this scenario is premeditated and an extreme example with very expensive consequences, it isn’t difficult for simple mistakes to be made when it comes to managing payroll. If you find you aren’t keeping on top of your company’s payroll, contact us and our team can help you increase your efficiency and ensure compliance.

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