Queensland business fined $180k for exploiting foreign worker

A Queensland business has been fined after being found guilty of exploiting a foreign worker who was ultimately short-changed by $23,546.

The former owners of a Brisbane cafe have been fined more than $180,000 after illegally forcing a foreign worker to hand back $18,000 of his wages.

Federal Court judge Michael Jarrett fined Saandeep Chokhani $30,000 and imposed a further $150,000 penalty against the company he and his wife owned over the unlawful cash-back arrangement.

The court found Mr Chokhani, who until last month had owned and operated the Coffee Club at Nundah, had failed to pay the Indian national wages for four months from July to November 2014 and for another four weeks in early 2015.

He then transferred $19,300 to the worker, only to ask him to pay back $18,000 and in 2015, threatened to have the worker's 457 visa cancelled unless he complied.

Justice Jarrett said the worker felt he did not have any choice but to pay the money, and Mr Chokhani'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," Justice Jarrett said.

The worker was ultimately short-changed by $23,546, which has since been repaid.

Brisbane woman Debbie Grearly and her daughter Megan took over as owners of the cafe last month.

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