26 August, 2009

Foreign student 'exploited' by fast food outlet

Ben Schneiders
August 24, 2009

A FAST food store in Melbourne's CBD has been accused of systematically not paying international students employed while on ''trial'', in the latest claim of exploitation of foreign students .

Prateek Sahni, 23, has alleged a Subway manager did not pay him for more than 40 hours work at the fast food outlet in February and required him to do heavy labouring work for him at a property, also free. He is seeking penalties that could exceed $200,000.

The claim comes as the Fair Work Ombudsman has warned that young foreign students are vulnerable to exploitation and after a security guard at the 2008 Australian Open - who was also an international student - received more than $100,000 in penalties for under-payment.

Mr Sahni's claims have been denied by Biltan Besim, the manager of the Subway outlet at 1-5 Elizabeth Street, who said he tried to contact the accountancy student to pay him but had incomplete details and no surname. He said that Mr Sahni never returned his employment and tax forms and had left his final shift early and ''disappeared''.

Mr Sahni said he never received any forms and his requests for extra work after his final shift were rebuffed after he asked to be paid.

Mr Besim said he ''generally'' and ''predominantly'' paid trial workers but said some abandoned their work and could not be tracked down.

Mr Sahni's lawyers at Maurice Blackburn have lodged a statement of claim in Melbourne Magistrates Court and are seeking penalties for breaches of workplace laws against Mr Besim and Kaba Investments, the store operator.

Maurice Blackburn principal Anne Gooley said her firm has received instructions from other people that what had occurred to Mr Sahni was a ''pattern of behaviour'' from the Subway store, while Mr Sahni said he knew of at least five other students who had not been paid.

The Fair Work Ombudsman executive director Michael Campbell - who was not commenting on this case - said foreign workers were vulnerable to being taken advantage of, particularly in industries such as retail, hospitality and cleaning.

He said non-payment for trial periods was also a common complaint from young people and was mostly illegal. ''Unless you are in a work experience placement or you are a volunteer you should be paid for all hours worked.''

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