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A Nando’s restaurant withheld the first two weeks’ wages from a new staff member in a bid to ensure the employee stayed in the job for at least three months, a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation has revealed.

The worker – a 25-year-old Korean national in Australia on a 417 working holiday visa – was also underpaid thousands of dollars when he worked at the Nando’s restaurant in the Brisbane suburb of Kelvin Grove.

The restaurant operators are now being held to account for unlawfully withholding wages and underpaying the worker’s minimum hourly rate, casual loadings and penalty rates.

Franchisee UB Partners Pty Ltd, and the company’s sole director, Ujjwal Singh, have signed an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Mr Singh is also the sole director of a second company, UBS Pty Ltd, which operates the Nando’s restaurant at Newstead. 

UB Partners has agreed to back-pay the former employee $5573 that the worker was short-changed over four months from January to May last year.

The former employee, who has since returned to Korea, was paid as little as $12 an hour when he should have received between $20.94 and $37.74 an hour – depending on his shifts – under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010.

It was also against the law for UB to withhold wages from the employee as a “bond” until he had completed three months’ employment.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has received complaints in the past from employees at both of Mr Singh’s Nando’s restaurants.

The Enforceable Undertaking requires him and his companies to undertake training and commit to future compliance with federal workplace laws.

Deductions from wages are generally unlawful if they are not authorised by the employee in accordance with workplace law and are not principally for the benefit of the employee.

“Clearly withholding wages in this case only benefited the employer, which is why we have taken this matter seriously and sought a commitment from the business this behaviour will not be repeated,” says Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell.

“Deducting money from employee wages as a punishment, or as some sort of performance management tool, is completely unlawful.”

“And it is clearly not a constructive way of encouraging staff to improve their performance if there are performance issues that need addressing.”

“Research shows that employees are most productive and motivated when they are part of a workplace culture in which their contribution is valued and there are strong, positive leaders who encourage them to perform at their best.”

Mr Campbell says the Fair Work Ombudsman also views very seriously attempts by employers to exploit the vulnerability of overseas workers, who often are unaware of their workplace rights.

Source: Media Release, Fair Work Ombudsman 17 April 2015

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