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Cafe workers ripped off

Wednesday, 21st August, 2013

By Andrew Robertson

As local eateries are about to be audited, it has emerged thousands of dollars in unpaid wages were recovered for cafe and restaurant workers last financial year. 

A spokeswoman for the Fair Work Ombudsman said yesterday that $15,042 was recovered for four underpaid employees in Broken Hill.

She was unable to say if all the employees worked at the same business or how much each of them received.

The amount was part of more than $407,000 in unpaid wages recovered for 150 cafe, restaurant or catering workers across the state in 2012/13.

Fair Work inspectors will next month audit local businesses to ensure they are paying staff their correct hourly rates, shift loadings and penalties.

The eateries are among 1500 cafes, restaurants and catering businesses being audited by the ombudsman as part of a national education and compliance campaign focusing on the hospitality industry. 

The three-year campaign has already seen inspectors audit hundreds of accommodation providers, pubs and bars and they will next year target take-away food operators.

Businesses found flouting workplace laws will have no excuses with the spokeswoman saying the ombudsman had already written to more than 36,000 employers in the sector.

But in an industry that is one of the highest for generating complaints, the likelihood of finding breaches remains high.

“Normally when we conduct these audits we recover some money,” the spokeswoman said.

The last time the ombudsman conducted a similar campaign in 2008 some $1.6 million in back-pay was recovered for 4,600 employees nationally.

The spokeswoman said Fair Work would not visit the city but instead carry out a desk-top audit of local eateries, with inspectors only visiting in the event breaches were found to have occurred.

Last month, the Democratic Club agreed to pay 46 current and former employees thousands in unpaid wages because they were on incorrect job classifications dating as far back as 2006. 

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said: “This sector employs many young and foreign workers who can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights.

“They can often be reluctant to complain or how to approach the issue if there’s a concern about their entitlements.”

Ms James said she also wanted to work with industry bodies and individual businesses to ensure employers are aware of their obligations and meet them.

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