Wage theft raids in Brisbane and Melbourne have recovered $1,212,727 for 131 fast food, hospitality and retail workers.
Employment law experts say the raids are further proof that wage theft is endemic in many industries.
“The results of these audits show current monetary penalties are not effective in stopping wage theft,” industrial advocate Miles Heffernan said.
“That’s why we need criminal penalties so we can start locking up greedy bosses.”
Wage theft raids in Brisbane and Melbourne
The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted the raids prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Inspectors targeted popular food precincts in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Additionally, they audited food and retail businesses around the country that had previously breached workplace laws.
The raids happened following multiple wage theft complaints from workers.
Inspectors found most of the businesses failed to pay lawful minimum hourly wages in addition to failing to pay correct penalty rates.
Wage theft raids in Brisbane
Inspectors investigated 44 businesses at West End in Brisbane.
They found 88 percent failed to comply with workplace laws, including underpaying staff.
As a result, the regulator recovered $309,073 for 369 workers in the area.
The underpayments by the businesses ranged from $377 to $65,215.
Wage theft raids in Melbourne
Meanwhile, inspectors raided 49 fast food, cafes and restaurants in Melbourne’s Degraves Street and Hardware Lane.
They found 84 percent of the outlets failed to comply with workplace laws.
In total, the regulator recovered $194,365 for 186 workers in the area.
Total underpayments for each business ranged from $30 to $59,680.
As a result of the breaches in both Brisbane and Melbourne, Fair Work issued:
- one contravention letter;
- 19 formal cautions;
- 51 infringement notices (with total penalties of $101,220); and also
- 42 Compliance Notices.
Other businesses targeted
Fair Work also investigated another 171 businesses across the country, finding a 71 percent non-compliance rate.
As a result of those raids, inspectors recovered $709,289 for 796 workers.
The affected workers included chefs, cooks, waiters and also retail assistants.
In response to breaches, Fair Work issued:
- 11 contravention letters;
- 10 formal cautions;
- 16 infringement notices (with total penalties of $31,290); and also
- 85 Compliance Notices.
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No excuse for wage theft
Most businesses later told Fair Work the contraventions happened because they didn’t understand modern awards.
However, industrial advocate Miles Heffernan sad ignorance is no excuse for wage theft.
“If you don’t know how to pay your staff properly, or if you can’t afford to, then you shouldn’t be in business,” he said.
“The results of these compliance activities by the regulator prove that wage theft is rampant in many industries.
“Criminal penalties for wage theft are clearly long overdue.”
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