Midhun Basi, quit his job at Adithya Kerala restaurant “everything was getting a bit tough”. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
‘You actually can’t run a fine dining restaurant and be profitable and keep all of your staff happy’
A New South Wales restaurant owner is being accused of underpaying a chef by more than $200,000 over a period of less than two years.
Midhun Basi quit his job as a chef at the Adithya Kerala restaurant in Nowra on the weekend, after what he said was months of 12-hour days, six days a week.
The time sheets he kept showed he worked at least 70 hours a week. But he was only ever paid for 38 — with no overtime, and no penalty rates.
“We had to do all the work, including cleaning, delivery, preparing service,” he said.
“Everything was getting a bit tough.”
On top of that, he said the restaurant’s owner, Vaisakh Usha, made him pay back $511 of his wages in cash each fortnight — telling him it was to help pay the restaurant’s tax bills and rent.
Mr Basi said when he did not have enough money to pay, his employer deducted the amount from his wages.
“I would not dare to ask him anything, because I was scared that maybe he [would] cancel my visa and send me back to India,” he said.
“Whatever he said, I trusted him.”
Midhun Basi said the restaurant was a “totally unhealthy environment”. (ABC News: Chloe Hart)
Watched by kitchen camera
Mr Basi came to Australia in May 2016 as a skilled worker on a 457 visa. He worked briefly at a restaurant in Perth, before taking a job with Mr Usha in Wollongong later that year.
He said in the beginning, the atmosphere was friendly — but that changed when the owner opened a new restaurant an hour down the road in Nowra, and sent him to work there, preparing food for both restaurants.
“It was a totally unhealthy working environment,” he said.
“There’s a camera inside the kitchen. He always watches the camera, and calls asking, ‘What are you doing now?’
“Even when it’s not that busy, he used to call and ask what we were doing, if we were sitting or whatever.”
Mr Usha said he kept an eye on his staff to keep them from closing the restaurant early — and that his chef worked long hours because he was slow, and refused to take breaks.
“He is the one who takes the decision to stay there that much hours,” Mr Usha said.
“If he said to me, ‘Boss, I am working this much hours, give me that much pay also’, definitely I will give [it]. But he didn’t say anything.”
Mr Usha said the cash payments he took from his employee were to repay loans.
“Sometimes he takes $4,000, $5,000. Sometimes he is not giving [it] back. I am calling him, ‘I need to pay my tax. Give that money’.”
Mr Basi denied borrowing money from his employer.
Vaisakh Usha gets a letter of demand for unpaid wages from a union official. (ABC News: Jess Clifford)
‘He got very emotional’
Mr Basi’s case was raised by his landlord in Nowra, Lissa de Sailles, who grew increasingly alarmed at what her tenant was telling her.
“I just got to the point where I couldn’t stand hearing stories anymore,” she said.
“As the oldest son in the family, he is responsible for his parents. And one night he got very emotional. He was worried about his parents’ welfare because he wasn’t being paid properly.”
In June, she contacted South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris, who estimated Mr Basi had been underpaid $227,000 in unpaid overtime and penalty rates.
“He came over here for a job, and he got a sentence,” he said.
“Twelve hours a day, six days a week. That’s not work. That’s slavery.
“The worrying thing is this that we have known, and we have heard of these sorts of stories on the grapevine for many years.
“There are many Midhuns out there. And they are afraid of speaking, because they know that the boss can threaten to send them back home and take their visa.”
Mr Basi is now without a job and a visa sponsor — but said he was glad he finally quit.
“Yes, I am grateful,” he said.
“After two years of a very hard, stressed life, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But for the time being, I am a bit relaxed.”