The Fair Work Ombudsman’s audit of Hobart’s “cheap eats” food precincts has found that 80 per cent of businesses had failed to comply with workplace laws, including record-keeping requirements, resulting in over $580,000 in underpaid wages.
Fair Work Ombudsman’s surprise audit recovers $580,000 in unpaid wages
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on Thursday announced that it had recovered $582,450 in wages on behalf of 276 workers across 45 businesses across North Hobart, Salamanca and Battery Point, and Constitution Dock.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said her office plans to ramp up unannounced audits — like those that took place across Hobart — as part of a national program that will target similar dining precincts in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
“Our intelligence-led activities have hit food precincts around the country because they commonly employ a high proportion of young and migrant workers who can be vulnerable to exploitation,” she said.
“Protecting vulnerable workers such as students and visa holders and improving compliance in the fast food, restaurants and cafés sector are ongoing priorities for the Fair Work Ombudsman.”
As part of its Hobart-wide “cheap eats” audit, Fair Work Inspectors found 35 businesses in breach of workplace laws, with 32 of them having underpaid their workers, and 24 failing to meet payslip and record-keeping requirements.
Among the most common breaches were paying staff less than minimum wage, with 27 businesses committing the breach, followed by failing to pay casual loading, of which 21 businesses were guilty.
The ombudsman has since issued 34 compliance notices, which resulted in the recovered funds, as well as 22 infringement notices, which have cost businesses a combined $30,030 in fines.
Since the audit, the ombudsman has launched legal action against a business owner and two of its operators. Zhi Zhi Tan, company director of café Welvin and Kevin, and manager Qingxiang Meng are facing action for failing to comply with a notice which required it to calculate and back-pay wages.
The ombudsman also alleged that the company had failed to keep employee records, holding Mr Meng responsible for the breach. The wages were withheld from four young workers, one of whom was in Australia on a visa.
The ombudsman is also considering litigation against another business, and warned the other businesses found to be in breach of workplace laws would face heavier enforcement if they were found operating afoul of the laws again.
According to its annual report, fast food, restaurant and café matters accounted for 50 per cent of the FWO’s litigation efforts in the 2019–20 year.