Wage theft rife in Adelaide’s Chinatown, Fair Work Ombudsman says after spot checks
The nation’s fair work watchdog says it has detected concerning levels of underpayment and penalty rates in Adelaide’s Chinatown precinct this week.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker told ABC Radio Adelaide inspectors had so far visited about 40 out of 60 restaurants, cafes and fast-food outlets across Chinatown and the Adelaide Central Market.
“Unfortunately, we’re finding really high levels of non-compliance, we’re finding flat rates of pay not being paid, failure to provide awards provisions, weekend penalty rates not being paid,” she said.
“We’ll be taking some compliance action there and we’ve got more to come.”
The watchdog initiated the audits after concerns were raised by a number of sources, including through its anonymous report tool.
Ms Parker said it was too early to provide precise figures on the proportion of businesses found to be breaching their obligations.
“We’ve done audits across Australia in what we call these ‘cheap eat’ [outlets] and we’ve recovered more than half-a-million dollars in unpaid wages already, and that’s not including Adelaide, so we expect to recover quite a lot through our audits here.”
She said staff typically approached managers and asked for payment records and then the records were examined.
“There’s a couple of ways this can go,” Ms Parker said.
“If they’re willing to pay it back quickly and they’re cooperative and it’s clearly not deliberate, then we’ll issue what’s called a compliance notice. They pay the money back and it’s forgiven, if you like.
“If we find any evidence that there’s deliberate underpayment — for example, if there are two sets of books, or they’re not keeping records deliberately [and] workers tell us they’re being exploited — then we’ll take further action including taking them to court.”
In February, protesters rallied in Adelaide’s Chinatown district calling for better wage protections for vulnerable workers after footage went viral of an alleged assault on a worker at a bubble tea store in Gouger Street.
The audits are part of a national program that has previously targeted cheap eateries in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane Adelaide and Perth.
Earlier this month, the Fair Work Ombudsman released its findings from popular food precincts in Hobart, in which more than $580,000 in unpaid wages were recovered for 376 workers.
“What we often find in these cheap eat places is that it’s vulnerable workers who are often getting ripped off,” Ms Parker said.
“They’re often visa holders, and we focus on those, and young people. They don’t know their rights, they don’t know where to get help and they’re nervous about their visa status, they often get threatened with that.”
Businesses found not to be complying can be issued infringement notice fines of up to $6,600 per breach or $1,332.
Individuals can be fined up to $1,332 per breach.