Adelaide vies with Melbourne as the wage theft capital of Australia. Some café owners and retailers use it as part of their business plan.
A recent decision by the Federal Circuit Court should scare the bejesus out of them.
A Melbourne café has been fined for deliberately underpaying and exploiting 73 staff members more than $180,000 over a 12-month period.
In 2018, the ABC revealed allegations staff were underpaid by at least $5 an hour, and when they tried to discuss their wages with the owners their shifts were cancelled indefinitely.
The Federal Circuit Court ordered siblings Stavros and Anastasia Petroulias to pay fines totalling $232,545 against the company they part-own and operate.
They were also ordered to rectify the underpayments.
The Fair Work Ombudsman found staff had not been paid the penalty rates and casual loadings they were entitled to under the Restaurant Industry Award.
Some were also paid at below minimum wage.
The owners had “deliberately contravened workplace laws and exploited staff”, including many young and migrant workers, by paying flat rates of $18 to $25 an hour.
The pair also contravened adverse action laws by not offering shifts to workers who had challenged the low rates of pay.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker warned employers that they were on notice and must pay Australia’s “lawful minimum pay rates”.
“We also treat very seriously instances of employers taking any sort of action against an employee in response to them seeking to have their lawful workplace rights respected,” she said.
Judge Heather Riley said the hospitality sector was “notorious” for the underpayment of employees, and that the exploitation of vulnerable workers was an aggravating feature of the case.