Surprise audits on Melbourne eateries for workplace compliance

burger chain, restaurant, eateries
Make burgers on the grill restaurant. Burgers cooking on a gas grill in the evening sun

The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently conducted surprise inspections of numerous “cheap eats” food outlets in inner south Melbourne to check workers are getting the right pay and entitlements.

The surprise inspections came about after receiving intelligence from various sources, including anonymous reports, indicating potential underpayments of employees in the area. Inspectors are on alert for unlawfully low flat rates, unpaid hours of work, unpaid penalty rates, late payments, false or inaccurate records and failures to provide payslips, among other breaches.

In addition, the FWO is also checking to see if the establishments employed what are considered “vulnerable workers” such as visa holders and students.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said protecting vulnerable workers and improving compliance in the fast food, restaurant and café sector were ongoing priorities for the agency. She stated, “Visa workers and students can be especially at risk of exploitation as they’re often unfamiliar with Australian workplace laws. We know they can be reluctant to ask questions about their pay or entitlements or raise concerns with their employer. Inspectors in inner south Melbourne are checking employment records for compliance with workplace laws. We will hold employers to account if they are not meeting their obligations and take enforcement action where appropriate. We will also educate employers on their legal responsibilities and workers about their rights.”

The audits are part of a national program that has previously targeted eateries in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin, and the Gold Coast.

A company can face a court-ordered penalty of up to $33,300 for a Compliance Notice breach and up to $66,600 for a record-keeping breach. Individuals can be penalised up to $6,660 for a Compliance Notice breach and up to $13,320 for a record-keeping breach.

The FWO noted that fast food, restaurant and café matters accounted for 36 per cent of its litigations in 2020-21 and has secured court-ordered penalties of $1,841,347 from litigation decisions in this sector. Visa holder workers were involved in 32 per cent of all litigations that year.