Australia

These migrant workers say they were told they would have to 'buy' leave

Former employees Shojin Thomas (centre) and Ninumol Abraham are seen near the Indian Restaurant Binny's Kathitto in Canberra. Source: AAP

A Canberra restaurant is facing allegations of migrant worker exploitation, with employees claiming they were told to purchase sick and holiday leave.

When mother of two Ninumol Abraham started her job at a Canberra restaurant, she says she was told to pay for her sick leave and holiday leave.

To make it worse, Ms Abraham said she worked nearly 70-hour, six-day weeks at the restaurant to support her kids.

"I couldn't get time to look after my kids and my family," Ms Abraham said.

Binny John Babu, her boss at the Indian restaurant, Binny's Kathitto, allegedly rejected her requests to reduce her hours.

After she took a few days off sick, Ms Abraham provided a medical certificate to Mr Babu upon request.

Later that day, Ms Abraham says he sacked her.

Ms Abraham's former workmate and manager, Shojin Thomas, says she was asked to pay over $5000 before she could go on holiday to cover tax and a replacement worker.

It was only when Ms Thomas asked a lawyer she realised what was happening wasn't right.

Ms Thomas and Ms Abraham say they were both working six, 12 hour days per week for $55,000 per year, minus what they had to pay for sick and holiday leave.

The union representing hospitality workers, United Voice, is helping Ms Abraham and Ms Thomas with separate claims against the restaurant.

Joining a small protest outside the Indian restaurant on Thursday, they said Mr Babu told them their visas would be cancelled if they didn't pay cash to 'purchase' their holiday and sick leave.

Mr Babu said the allegations the former workers were making were false.

"We have paid everything correctly," he told AAP on Thursday.

United Voice ACT secretary Lyndal Ryan said she wanted to see an end to wage theft across the country.

Ms Ryan said Ms Thomas' and Ms Abraham's cases were the worst stories of exploitation the ACT branch had heard.

"Perhaps the greatest irony of the situation is that the restaurant is located literally next door to the Department of Home Affairs," Ms Ryan said.

She said it was clear worker exploitation was happening "right under our noses".

Ms Abraham has a claim with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, while Ms Thomas has made complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Federal Labor Leader Albanese.
Federal Labor Leader Albanese.
AAP

It came as Labor leader Anthony Albanese met with exploited workers in Brisbane on Thursday, telling reporters Queensland workers were underpaid an estimated $1 billion last year.

"What that means is that there's a billion dollars less in the economy," Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese said the coalition government needed to address worker exploitation to help a stagnant economy.

He said when businesses underpaid workers it gave them an unfair advantage over those who were doing the right thing.

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