Indian-origin owners of a former coffee club have been fined more than 180,000 dollars in Australia for exploiting an Indian employee by forcing him to hand back his wages and threatening to have his visa cancelled if he refused. Federal Court Judge Michael Jarrett fined Saandeep Chokhani 30,000 dollars and imposed a further 150,000 dollars penalty against the company he and his wife owned over the unlawful cash-back arrangement, Australian Associated Press reported. Chokhani formerly owned and ran the Coffee Club at Nundah Village Shopping Centre in Brisbane with his wife. The worker, an Indian national in his late 20s, was threatened with visa cancellation if he didn’t pay back 18,000 dollars.
The Indian worker was sponsored by a company run by Chokhani and his wife to work as a cook while on a ‘457 visa’, the most common visa for Australian or overseas employers to sponsor skilled foreign workers to work temporarily in the country. The court found that Chokhani, who then owned and operated a Coffee Club franchise at Nundah, had failed to pay the Indian national any wages for four months from July to November 2014 and for another four weeks in Feburary/March 2015.
He then transferred just over 19,300 dollars to the worker, only to ask him to pay back 18,000 dollars and in 2015 threatened to have the worker’s 457 visa cancelled unless he complied. Judge Jarrett said the worker felt he did not have any choice but to pay the money and Mr Chokani’s behaviour was “especially egregious” and a grotesque exploitation of the power imbalance between the two men.
“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,” Judge Jarrett said. Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said she was concerned that cashback schemes were being used by unscrupulous operators to get around record-keeping laws and disguise serious underpayment of wages.