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Underpaid cook receives $28,000 back-payment

A Melbourne Chinese restaurant has been instructed by the Fair Work Ombudsman to repay $28,000 to a cook previously employed in the restaurant's factory.

The restaurant chain operates four restaurants around Melbourne, with a factory producing dumplings for the restaurants in the city's north. During her two-and-a-half years with the business, the cook was paid around $10 an hour, well below the minimum award rate of around $16 per hour.

The Fair Work Ombudsman also found that the employer had failed to pay leave loading for leave taken and had required the employee to work beyond a standard eight-hour shift without paying overtime. In addition to this, the Ombudsman found that the cook had been asked to work weekends and public holidays without penalty rates and no records had been kept of when the employee had worked.

Perhaps the most damning claim was that the workplace had a culture of bullying and harassment, particularly against non-English-speaking employees who had little understanding of Australia's workplace laws.

The employer agreed to voluntarily repay the missing wages. He claimed that the underpayment was an honest mistake and that many small to medium-sized businesses struggled with onerous and complex workplace laws.

In January, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on "widespread" underpayment in hospitality businesses in Sydney and Melbourne with another case of underpayment and potential unfair dismissal currently being looked into by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Cafes and restaurants are not the only businesses under fire; the ABC reported last month on a call centre and its manager fined $81,000 and $26,000 respectively for underpayment of 33 casual employees.

These are cautionary tales for business owners. For many small businesses, a sizeable payout like those listed would be a significant financial strain. It is essential to understand current award conditions or, if your employees are working under an enterprise agreement, ensure all conditions and rates of pay are compliant.

An HR audit can help your organisation to ensure its obligations are being met in regards to pay and entitlements. iHR Australia can assist you in undertaking a full audit and also offers support with enterprise agreements and contracts.

To find out more about our HR support services and training, or to obtain a quote, call 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

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