A former cook at a trendy Melbourne restaurant claims she was forced to work seven days a week for less than $3 an hour.
Tiff Tan was on a student visa when she worked for Hochi Mama and Straight Outta Saigon co-owner Thai Ho from July 2015 to December 2015.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has confirmed it is now investigating Mr Ho and his restaurants for possible breaches of workplace laws.
Worker ‘scared and desperate’
Ms Tan told The port Phillip Leader said that she put up with the appalling work conditions because she was “scared and desperate” and was promised sponsorship for a more secure visa if she stayed at Hochi Mama.
This never eventuated.
“I had a lot of anxiety, I had to pay my rent, I needed money, if I didn’t go to work then I didn’t get anything,” she said.
“I only had a half an hour break, I was tired, exhausted, I would go home and cry, my body was shaking.”
Owner denies allegations
In a statement to the Leader, Mr Ho denied the allegations which he described as “offensive” and said he would co-operate with Fair Work investigators.
“I strongly deny outright that I have mistreated migrant employees, or that I lured them to work in substandard conditions under the false promise of sponsorship, or otherwise,” the statement read.
“I find myself in an unfair position of having to have to defend serious allegations in circumstances where no particulars are given of the employee making the allegations.
“Since the initial allegations were brought to our attention, I engaged with both our lawyers and accountants with a view of conducting a self-audit as to the payments made to employees over the years.
“All we ask for is that we are afforded a fair go to address these matters.”
Hospitality industry built on ‘underclass of exploited migrant workers’
Ben Redford from the United Voice union said Melbourne’s hospitality sector was “built on an underclass of exploited migrant workers”.
“All over the hospitality industry right now we are seeing migrant staff work side-by-side with local workers doing the same kind of work, but getting paid way less — it’s a racist double standard, and it’s absolutely disgusting,” he said.
“People who treat workers like this should be in jail.”
Time to make wage theft a criminal offence
Worker advocate Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Act Claims joined union calls for wage theft to be made a criminal offence.
“If these workers had stolen money from their boss, they would be criminally charged and face convictions and possibly jail sentences – so why shouldn’t the same rules apply to greedy employers who steal from their staff,” he said.
“Employers who commit deliberate or reckless wage theft should be jailed – it’s as simple as that.”
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