Surprise inspections lead to recovered wages for Newcastle hospitality workers

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The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered $281,729 for 305 underpaid food outlet employees in Newcastle, following surprise inspections conducted on 43 businesses in the town’s fast food, restaurant and café sector which predominately targeted ‘cheap eats’ venues.

The inspections were prompted by intelligence from a range of sources, including anonymous reports of potential workplace violations. As a result of the investigations, the FWO found workplace law breaches in 73 per cent of food outlets (30 businesses).

The most common breaches were related to underpayment or failure to pay penalty rates (29 businesses), which variously included evening and night rates, and weekend and public holiday loading, as well as casual loading, followed by underpayment of minimum wages for ordinary hours (19 businesses).

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said improving compliance in the fast food, restaurant and café sector was an ongoing priority for the regulator.

“These disappointing Newcastle findings are part of a national food precincts program where we’ve often found that low-cost dining comes at the expense of workers’ lawful wages,” Booth said. “Employers must follow all wage laws, including penalty rates which generally serve as compensation for those working at times when most people are not. Those doing the wrong thing are being found out and held to account.

“Employers should access our wide range of free online tools and resources to ensure they’re meeting their obligations, or contact the FWO directly for free advice,” Booth added. “We want to help businesses in the food sector get it right in the first place. We also urge workers with concerns about wages and entitlements to reach out to us – including anonymously if preferred.”

The highest amount recovered from any one business was $82,583 for two casual fastfood workers who were not paid their casual minimum wages and their public holiday and weekend loading.

Following investigations, the FWO issued 26 Compliance Notices, which resulted in recoveries of $277,006 for 302 workers. Some employers rectified underpayments without the use of an enforcement tool.

Eight Infringement Notices for payslip and record-keeping breaches resulted in $22,497 in fines paid. Two businesses remain under investigation.

The national program of audits has previously targeted eateries in locations such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, the Gold Coast, Perth and Canberra. The Ombudsman reported that in 2022-23, it had secured more than $800,000 in court-ordered penalties against food sector employers.