A cup of coffee with Coffee Club branding.

A Coffee Club café franchisee in Brisbane is facing court for allegedly requesting an overseas worker repay $18,000 of his wages and threatening to cancel his 457 visa if he refused.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action against Saandeep Chokhani, who, with his wife, owns and runs the Coffee Club franchise at the Nundah Village Shopping Centre.

Also facing court is a company Chokhani and his wife are the directors of, Gaura Nitai Pty Ltd.

The allegedly underpaid worker is an Indian national in his late 20s who was sponsored by Gaura Nitai to work as a cook at the Coffee Club outlet on a 457 skilled worker visa.

It is alleged that the worker was promised an annual salary of $53,900 when he was recruited but was paid significantly less and endured long periods without receiving any wages at all.

It is alleged that after failing to pay the worker any wages for a four month period from July to November 2014 and a one month period in February to March 2015, Chokhani and Gaura Nitai paid the worker $19,334 by electronic transfer on 22 April 2015.

It is alleged that Chokhani then told the worker to withdraw $18,000 in cash and repay it to him or his 457 visa would be cancelled.

The worker withdrew $18,000 in cash the same day and repaid it to Chokhani.

The worker lodged a request for assistance with the Fair Work Ombudsman only after his employment was terminated without notice in November 2015.

It is alleged that when Fair Work inspectors investigated, they found that because of the unlawful cashback payment, the worker had been underpaid his minimum hourly rates, casual loading, annual leave entitlements, overtime rates, payment in lieu of notice of termination and penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work.

It is alleged that the unlawful cashback payment and the underpayment of contractual entitlements led to the worker being short-changed a total of $23,546 between September 2013 and November 2015.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the agency has a proactive compliance deed in place with the owners of the Coffee Club Franchise, Minor DKL Food Group (MDKL) and commended the company’s cooperation through the course of the investigation.

“We are pleased that in this instance, the franchise owner presented our inspectors with documents to assist our investigation. It should be noted that we received these documents without the need to issue a Notice to Produce. MDKL is to be commended for its approach to ensuring compliance in its network,” James said.

The worker has now been back-paid in full.

Chokhani faces maximum penalties of up to $10,800 per contravention and Gaura Nitai Pty Ltd faces penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking Court Orders requiring Chokhani to complete a range of self-education activities and for his company to conduct an assessment of its compliance with workplace laws and rectify any issues discovered.

A penalty hearing is scheduled for the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane on 2 June.

Image: The Coffee Club

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