Fair Work sting uncovers rife underpayment

Stock image.
Stock image.

MORE than $300,000 has been returned to cafe and restaurant workers after a national tactical Fair Work sting at four capital city food hotspots found 75 per cent of businesses were breaking the law.

The Fair Work Ombudsman audit of 156 fast food businesses and cafes across popular food districts, uncovered various breaches of workplace law following anonymous tip offs and requests for assistance from employees.

James Street and Francis Street were targeted in Northbridge, with site visits by inspectors coordinated to minimise the potential for forewarning. Businesses in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide were also targeted.

The sting comes after the ombudsman’s recent tackling of high-profile figures including George Calombaris, Heston Blumenthal, Neil Perry and Guillaume Brahimi, with Calmobaris alone found to have underpaid 500 current and former workers $7.8 million.

 

Fair Work says the industry is rife with ongoing non-compliance, with underpayments and a failure to provide payslips in the prescribed form revealed as the most common breaches uncovered.

A total 608 employees will receive backpayments totalling $316,674, with the audit revealing 75 per cent of businesses were breaking the rules in one way or another.

In response to the breaches, Fair Work issued 46 contravention letters, 38 formal cautions, and 34 infringement notices totalling $32,430 in fines for payslip and record-keeping breaches.

There were and 13 compliance notices requiring $83,058 to be reimbursed to 108 employees.

The compliance activity was the second in a series targeting ‘cheap-eat’ and entertainment strips.

Fair Work said these precincts are characterised by low entry barriers for new businesses, low or no union coverage, exploitation of young and migrant workers, and long trading hours over seven days of the week.

Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the underpayments were disappointing but not surprising.

“Many of the breaches we saw resulted from businesses not understanding their lawful obligations to their workers,” Ms Parker said.

“This is no excuse for underpaying employees so I’d suggest that employers invest in workplace law compliance before we come knocking.”