Cafe staff whose wages were docked for everything from putting a tomato on the wrong layer of a club sandwich to overcooking a waffle have had a win, with the Subiaco business forced to pay them $5000 each and thousands more in on-the-spot fines.
An investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found the cafe, which cannot be named, was illegally docking staff wages for perceived offences including $100 for being five minutes late for a shift, $12 for serving cold pizza, $12 for burning an omelette and $18.90 when a hair was found in a dish.
In one incident, a chef had her pay cut by the cost of a table's bill - $112 - when her boss deemed the crackling on a pork belly dish was "not crispy enough".
As well as taking money from pay packets, the cafe told staff they had to pay up to $1200 for cooking demonstrations and failed to keep accurate records or give employees pay slips.
Docking staff wages as a punishment for poor performance, to benefit an employer and without employee authorisation is illegal. The offences took place between June 2012 and May last year and the staff members, who were on sponsored migration visas from India and Nepal, no longer work for the cafe.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said overseas workers were vulnerable to exploitation because they were unaware of their rights.
In November, a city restaurateur who underpaid a migrant couple who spoke little English was fined $42,000 after the Ombudsman took the case to court.
"Deducting money from employee wages as a punishment, or as some sort of performance management tool, is completely unlawful," Ms James said.
"And it is clearly not a constructive way of encouraging staff to improve their performance if there are performance issues that need addressing.
"Research shows employees are most productive and motivated when they are part of a culture in which their contribution is valued and there are strong, positive leaders who encourage them to perform at their best."
In this case the cafe's illegal practices were uncovered only after four employees complained to the Ombudsman.
The business has paid $5000 in compensation to each employee and received a further $7650 in fines. It has been warned the business will be monitored against future breaches of workplace obligations.