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Melbourne cafes back-pay $25,000 to 26 ripped-off young staff

A worker operating a coffee machine.
26 young workers get their money back. (Photo: Getty)

Twenty-six Melbourne-based cafe workers are seeing a pay-day that has been a long-time coming, with a windfall of $24,947 in total.

A Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigation found that operators of Café Touchwood in Richmond and A Minor Place in Brunswick paid unlawfully low flat rates between January and April 2018 that saw part-time workers at each cafe paid approximately $20 an hour.

Café Touchwood casual staff received between $17 and $22 per hour, according to a statement from the FWO.

This meant part-time workers were not fully paid the minimum rates for ordinary hours, overtime, weekend, and public holiday penalty rates under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010, and neither were part-time staff allowed annual leave entitlements.

Casual workers at Café Touchwood did not receive their casual loading that was owed to them.

Most of the staff were young workers at 25 and below, with one employee at Café Touchwood a 17-year-old.

Some of the staff were also visa holders or on student visas, hailing from South Korea, Germany, Japan, the UK, and India.

Cafe Touchwood admitted it underpaid 17 staff $22,313.

The biggest individual underpayment of $3,852 was paid to a full-time chef who turned 21 during the audit period. This employee was paid an $18.50 flat rate where the base rate was $21.29, and overtime hours would have seen him receive $42.58 per hour.

A Minor Place underpaid nine staff $2,633, with the largest underpayment to the tune of $598.

All underpayments have been back-paid to the employees.

All eyes on the cafés for the next three years

Cindy Hunyh, a director of the two cafes, along with husband Duy Phuong Dang, a shareholder and business manager at Cafecino Enterprise (which trades as A Minor Place), have agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking (EU) and committed to improving their workplace compliance.

The EU requires each company to declare every six months for three years that the employees are receiving minimum entitlements.

The companies also must agree to have an external professional conduct three audits of pay and conditions of all employees in 2019 and 2020, fix any underpayments uncovered, and commission workplace relations training for managers.

Under the EU, the two companies have to make a $8,000 “contrition payment” to the Commonwealth Government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The EUs will ensure tight scrutiny of Hunyh’s companies moving forward, said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

“We have no tolerance for employers who think they can pay unlawfully low flat rates of pay to young or migrant workers, who can often be vulnerable,” she said.

“These court-enforceable undertakings mean the companies have not only had to pay back the money owed to their employees, but will also face ongoing close attention by the FWO.”

“Improving compliance in the fast food, restaurant and café sector is a priority for the agency and we encourage any workers with concerns about their pay to contact us,” said Parker.

Employers and employees can visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free assistance about their workplace rights and obligations.

You can also anonymously report on the Fair Work website in English and various languages.

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