Fares Ghazale, the former owner of the café in regional NSW, has been penalised $88,810 in the Federal Circuit Court, while his company Rubee Enterprises Pty Ltd has been penalised a further $444,100.
The total of just shy of $533,000 is the largest amount ever as a consequence of legal action brought on by the Fair Work Ombudsman
The next highest was the $408,348 penalty to a Brisbane 7-Eleven
store for underpaying foreign workers.
One employee being sponsored on the approved 457 visa was required to repay Ghazale $11,050 over a number of months in amounts varying from $450 to $940 a week.
Ghazale even threatened to “contact Immigration” if the employee did not hand over the cash after the employee complained.
The employee gave affidavit evidence 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”.
Moreover, Ghazale coerced the second Indian employee into repaying him $10,680 in cash through weekly repayments ranging from $360 to as much as $2000 one week.
After the employee complained to Ghazale that he was taking advantage of him, Ghazale responded by threatening to withdraw support for the employee’s pending 457 visa application.
When the worker told Ghazale he could no longer afford to pay money back, Ghazale responded by yelling at the employee and demanding he repay $500 cash each week if he wanted to get the visa.
Moreover, the worker gave affidavit evidence to the Court that at one point during this exchange, Ghazale dragged him by the collar and attempted to punch him. The matter was reported to Albury police.
After the incident, the cook continued working at the café and paying money to Ghazale.
The cashback scheme and the underpayments resulted in the two employees being underpaid $32,063 and $28,858, respectively.
Moreover, Ghazale and his company also underpaid the minimum wages and entitlements to three Australian citizens employed at the café.
A waitress was also underpaid $11,273, a cook $8946 and an apprentice cook $6766.
The Indian workers gave affidavit evidence that the underpayments left them struggling to even buy basic household items, such as groceries.
Apart from the penalties, the Federal Circuit Court has ordered Ghazale and his company to back-pay the five workers in full.
In the event that this order is not complied with due to insolvency, the Court has ordered that part of the penalties imposed be paid to the workers to rectify the underpayments.
Judge Tom Altobelli found in his judgement that the treatment of the Indian employees was “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,” Judge Altobelli said.
Judge Altobelli also found that the cashback scheme was part of a “deliberate strategy of deceit to hide the ongoing contraventions of workplace laws”.
Moreover, Ghazale had “deliberately exploited the imbalance of power between sponsor and visa holder in order to achieve financial gain”.
“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,” he said.
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A record penalty of $532,000 has been ordered in a case involving the underpayment of five workers at the Canteen Cuisine café in Albury.