Restaurant pair to face court for underpaying employee they thought was “sick in the head”

Posted by James Ferre on 9th February 2009

A Melbourne restaurant allegedly underpaid a kitchen hand more than $47,000 over five years because it considered him to be “handicapped”, an investigation by the Federal Workplace Ombudsman has discovered.

The national pay protector has initiated legal action against two former directors who have revealed to inspectors that they paid the man what they thought was “reasonable” because they believed he was “sick in the head”.

They are Elias Mazloum, of Oak Park and Maissaloun Mazloum, of Pascoe Vale, who operated the Sofia South Morang licensed pizza and pasta restaurant at 820 Plenty Road, South Morang.

Workplace Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell advised that the case is one of the most distressing he has encountered. “These employers have told our inspectors they believed that they paid what this man was worth because they thought of him as ‘retarded’ and have failed to acknowledge that they exploited him,” he said.

The Workplace Ombudsman will tell the Federal Magistrates Court that the kitchen hand was paid a flat rate of $13 an hour for working up to 50 hours a week. He should have been paid up to $17.39, rising to $17.94 for night shift, $20.87 for Saturdays, $24.34 for Sundays and $38.25 on public holidays.

It will allege that the employer did not think the worker was “competent to receive his minimum entitlement”, regardless of his work commitment.

Mr Campbell added that the restaurant has allegedly breached the Workplace Relations Act by underpaying the hourly rate, failing to pay penalties and failing to keep proper records.

He says the Workplace Ombudsman initially wanted to try to recover the full amount owing to the kitchen hand – an estimated $47,329 – but the company had recently gone into voluntary liquidation.

However, Mr Campbell reported the Agency was determined to take action against the former directors – a message he hoped would not be lost on others. “Employers who think they can exploit their workforce and get away with it by winding up their business affairs should think again,” he warned.