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Surprise investigations recover $223,107 for employees at food businesses

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Almost 450 employees at food businesses on the Sunshine Coast have received entitlements totalling more than $220,000 after investigations by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Investigators conducted surprise inspections of 21 businesses in the fast food, restaurant and cafe sector, including a mix of ‘high-end’ restaurants and ‘cheap eats’ venues.

The inspections at Noosa Heads, Sunrise Beach and Noosaville were prompted by intelligence from a range of sources, including anonymous reports.

The most common breach was underpayment of or failure to pay various types of penalty rates (14 businesses), followed by failure to pay correct minimum wages for ordinary hours (11 businesses), overtime (six businesses) and leave (six businesses), and record-keeping breaches (five businesses).

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said improving compliance in the hospitality industry was an ongoing priority for the regulator.

“These disappointing Sunshine Coast findings are part of a national food precincts program where we’ve often found that low-cost dining comes at the expense of workers’ lawful wages,” she said.

“Employers must follow all wage laws, including penalty rates, which generally serve as compensation for those working at times when most people are not. Those doing the wrong thing are being found out and held to account.

“We also urge workers with concerns about wages and entitlements to reach out to us – including anonymously if preferred.”

The highest amount recovered from any one business was $105,137 for 99 employees, mostly casual wait staff and kitchen staff. A mix of adults and juniors were underpaid their overtime hours and penalty rates.

Following investigations, the FWO issued 14 compliance notices, which resulted in the recovery of $223,107 for 447 workers.

Five infringement notices for payslip and record-keeping breaches resulted in $26,650 in fines paid. One business remains under investigation.

In 2022-23, the FWO secured more than $800,000 in court-ordered penalties against food sector employers.

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

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