Ombudsman discovers many Queensland restaurants and cafés failing to comply with workplace laws

Posted by James Ferre on 1st September 2008

Less than half the restaurants and cafes in central and northern Queensland are complying with workplace laws, a targeted campaign by the federal Workplace Ombudsman has revealed.More than 270 workers have been reimbursed almost $97,000 after random audits found they were being underpaid, with one business required to back-pay 54 staff $21,000.

Workplace inspectors have been checking the books of 151 restaurants, cafes and caterers following suspicions that workers may not be getting their full entitlements.

Investigations at 23 premises remain ongoing and Workplace Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says more money could still be recovered for some workers and he has not ruled out potential legal action.

Employers were put on notice last December when the workplace watchdog wrote to 225 businesses explaining their obligations to staff.

Mr Wilson said scrutiny of those randomly selected for audit revealed that only 42 per cent were compliant. Inspectors identified 33 breaches of the Workplace Relations Act – almost 75 per cent relating to rates of pay.

Employers were audited to ensure they were issuing pay slips, maintaining time and wages records, paying correct rates of pay, loadings and penalty rates and meeting their obligations when negotiating workplace agreements.

Mr Wilson said the need to check on restaurants and cafes became apparent after an earlier campaign last year focussed on young workers. “Credible information gathered from industry stakeholders and the broader community led us to suspect staff were being underpaid,” he reported. “Our primary objective is to ensure that workers are being paid their lawful wages and entitlements and ensure compliance with the law.”

Mr Wilson advised that when inspectors conduct targeted campaigns, they first work with employers and workers to ensure any issues are resolved voluntarily.

However, he warned that if serious breaches were identified, particularly if they occurred knowingly, his office would consider legal action.

Breaches of the Workplace Relations Act carry a maximum penalty of $33,000.

The Workplace Ombudsman will not prosecute any employers whose audits have been finalised, but litigation remains an option depending on the outcome of the remaining 23 investigations. “There will be no excuse for employers not complying with their obligations in the future,” Mr Wilson said.

The Restaurant and Caterer’s Association, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Worker’s Union were advised in advance of the campaign. The campaign did not include the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast or Toowoomba, where employers operate under a different Award.