Popular Sydney eatery, Mamak, is receiving more heat in the press than its spicy Roti. Chinatown’s Malaysian food mecca has been accused of paying casual staff rates as low as $11 per hour for the past three years. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that two employees were underpaid by $26,793 and another is owed $21,538. The spotlight, however, is shining on four international students who held a bridging visa and were unpaid $87,349 between February 2012 and April 2015.

What are the Repercussions?

Aside from landing themselves in a whole lot of satay, the Fair Work Ombudsman has initiated legal proceedings against the restaurant owners and the company, Mamak Pty Ltd. The hearing has been listed for the Federal Circuit Court for February 5, 2016. Mamak Pty Ltd is also responsible for their Chatswood and Melbourne stores.

The owners face fines of $10,200 for each violation of award wages, and the company could be penalised $51,000 per infringement for non-observance of the award. This begs the question – how many Satay sticks will Mamak need to sell to cover costs?

What is the Award?

The restaurant award as stated by the Fair Work Ombudsman provides that Café workers should receive respectively, $22 and $13 per hour for Adult and Junior casual staff.

How Did they Get Around the Award?

Mamak provided fraudulent payslips and false documents in an attempt to avoid the award wage.

Are They the First?

Underpaying staff is, regrettably, not an uncommon event with the press reporting on underpaid childcare workers, café workers, 7-eleven staff and students on Visas. Underpaying staff occurs so frequently due to an employer’s position of power over his or her employees. People needing work and unaware of their workplace rights can easily find themselves in situations where they feel they have no choice but to accept the money offered.

It is also not uncommon for employers to pay employees below the award wage. At 18, I was paid $11 an hour without any super contributions in my first job at a café franchise. I have since learnt that this was under the award wage. However, I thought I was powerless compared to my employer and would have done anything to continue making Frappuccinos, and earning a little pocket cash to pay for petrol.

I’ve been Underpaid, What Can I Do? 

Firstly, let’s set out what it means when you say you are underpaid. Underpayment of wages is where an employer fails to meet the award standard for pay and allowances. The Fair Work Ombudsman can enforce the Fair Work Act and prosecute employers underpaying their staff.  

It is the employee’s responsibility to report and lodge a claim against their employer to the relevant industrial tribunal. The limitation period is six years.

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If you think your wage does not meet the award standard, check out the Fair Work wage calculator for the Restaurant Award. You can also access a Workplace complaint form to lodge a complaint against your employer.

Questions about your industry’s award rate or lodging a complaint form with the Fair Work Ombudsman? Let our employment lawyers know on 1300 544 755.

Sophie Glover

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