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Glebe Point Rd. eateries guilty of wage theft

The Ombudsman has recovered wages for over 100 employees of businesses that were breaching the law

The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered $188,125 in wages for 176 workers at “cheap eat destinations” on Glebe Point Road, after an audit revealed that almost 50 businesses were not complying with workplace laws and regulations.

Earlier this week, the Ombudsman released a report on compliance in food precincts, which disclosed that 70 per cent of the 67 Glebe businesses were violating the Fair Work Act 2009. The most common violation, paying workers below the minimum hourly rate, occurred in 38 per cent of cases.

The Ombudsman issued two compliance notices, which, if ignored, will lead to legal action. The office also issued 20 infringement notices and 18 formal cautions.

The audit of Glebe businesses was part of a wider unannounced audit, which targeted two other “cheap eat” areas: Victoria Street in Richmond, Victoria and Fortitude Valley, Queensland. Altogether, the FWO recovered $471, 904 for 616 workers.

The FWO chose to crack down on the hospitality industry because it believes that the industry has a culture of “systemic non-compliance”. The report raised concerns about “high rates of labour turnover, readily accessible (and often vulnerable) workforces, and menu prices that appeared to be ‘too good to be true’.” It noted that, although hospitality only accounts for 7 per cent of Australia’s workforce, it represents 17 per cent of disputes taken to the FWO from 2016-17—the highest number of disputes that year.

The south end of Glebe Point Road, located across the road from USyd and Victoria Park, is a popular coffee spot for USyd students and, like many food precincts, relies on the labour of young workers.

The accommodation and food services industry has the highest proportion of young workers, according to a 2015 report by Safe Work Australia. Drawing on ABS data, a 2015 Safe Work report found that 43 percent of hospitality workers were aged 15-24 for 2012-13. The report also found that the hospitality industry has the highest proportion of female workers and part-time or casual workers (workers with less than 35 hours per week).

The Ombudsman’s report recognised that young people are “vulnerable cohort” in a particularly vulnerable sector. Since July 2017, the Ombudsman has recovered almost $3.5 million for hospitality employees.

“First-time job seekers in particular may not be aware of their minimum entitlements or workplace rights…Motivation to gain work experience and concerns about jeopardising their job if they query entitlements or seek help”, the report said.