15 February 2024

More than a dozen 'cheap eats' in Gungahlin and Queanbeyan put on notice for potential underpayments

| Claire Fenwicke
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anonymous picture inside an eatery kitchen

The Fair Work Ombudsman is concerned that ‘cheap eats’ can mean workers are being ripped off. Photo: Mint Images.

Anonymous reports and intelligence have led the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to inspect about 20 food outlets across Gungahlin and Queanbeyan for suspected underpayments.

The surprise inspections have been held throughout the week at predominately ‘cheap eats’ establishments that the regulator said had been chosen based on indicators of possible non-compliance, history with the FWO, and if they employed vulnerable workers such as visa holders or young people.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said protecting vulnerable workers and improving compliance in the fast food, restaurant and cafe sector were priorities.

“Inspectors are on the ground in Queanbeyan and Gungahlin this week speaking with employees and holding employers to account if they are not following workplace laws,” she said.

“We’ve often found that low-cost dining comes at the expense of workers’ lawful wages.

“We won’t hesitate to take enforcement action if needed.”

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Inspectors have been speaking with business owners, managers and employees and requesting records.

They’re mainly looking for signs of unlawfully low base rates of pay, unpaid hours of work, employers failing to pay penalty rates, and a failure to provide payslips.

“This sector engages many young workers and visa holders who can be vulnerable as they are often unaware of their workplace rights or unwilling to speak up,” Ms Booth said.

“We urge workers with concerns about wages and entitlements to reach out to us – including anonymously if preferred.”

The inspections are part of a national program that recently recovered more than $680,000 in unpaid wages for workers in Melbourne’s inner south and inner west food precincts.

Eateries have also been targeted in Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, Launceston, Darwin, the Gold Coast, Perth, Newcastle, the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.

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If you’re an employer or franchisee in the fast food, restaurant and cafe sector, you can use the FWO’s pay calculator and Small Business Showcase to ensure you comply with the law.

You can also access the FWO’s Employer Advisory Service for free, tailored advice about pay and conditions.

Businesses have been reminded that visa holders have the same workplace rights as all other employees.

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From my POV this is really bad because , eventually people will want to make the most of things and go out for coffee and food but considering the cost of living they’re going to choose a place that’s cheap. It’s dreadful to think the staff are being underpaid.

Capital Retro10:23 am 16 Feb 24

The consequences are that if they are paid what their union thinks they should be paid there will be no increase in service or productivity so prices will have to rise. No doubt you will be happy to subsidize that (if you can find an eatery that hasn’t closed down).

For me, I have had enough because last week I was charged $49.50 for two coffees, a toasted sandwich and a Danish at a Tuggeranong cafe.

Soon, the Bunnings sausage sandwich will be considered a treat and there is no rent or labour to pay in the supply of that.

Harley Quinn8:42 am 16 Feb 24

20yrs ago this was just called working in hospitality. I did 6yrs part-time and 6yrs full-time time work, and I literally have under $400 in superannuation. We never got pay slips and were always expected to work longer than our rostered shift.

Capital Retro10:37 am 16 Feb 24

But you got lots of cash tips, didn’t you and you declared these in your annual tax return?

Capital Retro5:32 pm 15 Feb 24

Every food shop in Queanbeyan is a “cheap eat” when compared to ones in Canberra.

GrumpyGrandpa5:16 pm 15 Feb 24

It’s hard enough when you are a young person, but when you have added vulnerability of language etc, it’s far too easy for scumbag employers to take advantage of lack of knowledge and street-wiseness.

We need to wait to see what the investigations reveal, but if it is shown that there has been a “deliberate” underpayment of wages and entitlements, I hope the business operators get punished to the full extent of the law. Yeah, and maybe more…..

The public is entitled to know the names of establishments that rip off their workers so we can choose where we wish to spend our money.

Aside from the fact that this behaviour needs to be publicly shamed as theft, it also highlights the value these employers place on people in general, so gives an indication of what to expect from that establishment as a customer.

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