Cafe tried to pay workers in food and drinks

A Queensland cafe has been accused of ripping off 11 young staff by insisting they receive a slice of their wages in food and drinks, court documents state.

Cafe 63 Chermside has been slapped with a lawsuit in the Federal Circuit Court by the Fair Work Ombudsman, as part of a wider crackdown on claims of wage-theft in the hospitality industry in Queensland.

The wages watchdog alleges 11 staff, mostly young foreigners living in Australia on student or bridging visas, were paid a lower hourly wage than the Restaurant Industry Award but were told they could eat and drink their way through $42 worth of food each day at work.

The allegedly unlawful underpayment of cooks, kitchen-hands and waiters occurred on various dates between August 2017 and January 2018, the claim states.

The cafe, which trades 24 hours a day in the Chermside Westfield shopping centre, is part of a budget chain which has 38 outlets across Queensland.

It serves simple meals at very low prices, such as $3 for a bacon and egg roll.

Cafe 63 at Westfield Chermside. The chain is coming to Cairns in 2019.
Cafe 63 at Westfield Chermside. The chain is coming to Cairns in 2019.

The Fair Work Inspectors allegedly found that eight of the 11 staff were paid a flat hourly rate - without penalty rates or overtime - and food "bonuses" under a wage-scheme dubbed "individual flexibility agreements".

FWO also alleges the owners of the cafe breached workplace laws by giving it "false and misleading records".

Cafe 63 is owned by Timi Trading Pty Ltd, which is owned by Vietnam-born Tien Hoang Le, 27, and his wife Minh Vo Duy Nguyen, from Hendra.

New-Zealand-born Hamish Watson, 59, from Kangaroo Point is a director of Timi Trading and owns the Cafe 63 brand, but does not own a share of Timi Trading Pty Ltd, court documents state.

Mr Watson is alleged to have "created" the system that Timi Trading used to hire staff on "individual flexibility agreements" including payment in food.

If the claims are proven, Timi Trading faces maximum penalties per breach of up to $63,000, while Mr Le, Ms Nguyen and Mr Watson face maximum penalties per breach of up to $12,600.

"Businesses should be aware that we are cracking down on the underpayment of vulnerable workers in the fast food, restaurant and café sector as a priority," Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement.

"Any worker with concerns about their pay or entitlements, should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman."

The FWO has asked the court to force Timi Trading Pty Ltd to submit to an audit of its wage payments and wants management to enrol in courses.

The case is due in court on February 21.

The Courier Mail has contacted the Cafe 63 national call-centre who sent messages to the Chermside store owners and Mr Watson seeking comment.