Former employees of Braddon's Binny's Kathitto allege the Indian restaurant's management embroiled migrant staff in a "cash back scam", made them pay $100 a day for sick leave, and threatened them with visa cancellations.
The Londsdale Street restaurant, owned by Rose Mary Thomas and managed by her husband, Binny John Babu, is the subject of a request for assistance to the Fair Work Ombusdman by former restaurant manager Shojin Thomas and former cook Ninumol Abraham.
"The job was meant to mean a new start for my family in Australia; instead it became a nightmare," Ms Abraham said.
"We are human beings and we deserve to be treated like it."
The allegations have been laid out in detail to Ms Rose Thomas and Mr Babu.
"[They] are being defended and are currently before a tribunal," a spokesman for the couple said.
"As a result, it would be inappropriate to comment until the proceedings have concluded."
Every fortnight, Ms Shojin Thomas and Ms Abraham allege they were required to put $511.40 in cash in an envelope in the restaurant's locker to cover "tax", despite it already being taken out of their pay. The money represented almost a quarter of their wages.
The pair allege they did so in fear of repercussions for their visas - Ms Thomas was seeking permanent residency under a 187, and Ms Abraham was sponsored by Binny's under a 457 visa.
Hospitality union United Voice ACT is backing them in their claims.
"Perhaps the greatest irony of the situation is that the restaurant is located literally next door to the Department of Home Affairs," branch secretary Lyndal Ryan said.
The pair allege they had to pay for sick leave to "cover the cost of replacement staff". In one instance, Ms Thomas was asked to fork out $5134.14 for six weeks leave because of an injury, she said.
She asked to take annual leave instead but stopped being paid during it; her salary did not re-commence until she covered the cost of the leave, she claims.
"I told him I didn't have the money," Ms Thomas said. "He said, 'Why don't you bring the money from India' ... I had to borrow the money from one of my friends."
Ms Thomas and Ms Abraham allege they were expected to work more than 60 hours a week at the restaurant, and did not have end of year reconciliations to determine whether they were being underpaid.
They allege Mr Babu was often "abusive" and threatened to send Ms Abraham "back to India". She was terminated in January 2019 after working there since May 2018, and disputed her dismissal through the ACT Human Rights Commission in February.
The case has been referred to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with Binny's saying her termination was because of poor performance. The restaurant also claimed Ms Abraham attempted to "bribe" them with money "until she [got] her permanent residency".
Ms Thomas resigned in July 2019, having worked at Binny's since March 2018, after her claim for a 187 visa was rejected. Staff at the restaurant who were casual did not have to pay management extra money, she said: "We had no choice. They controlled us."