Canberra's restaurants, cafes and catering firms are set to be audited as part of a campaign by Fairwork Australia. Photo: Rob Homer
Canberra's restaurants, catering firms and cafes are set to be audited as part of a national wage compliance campaign by the Fair Work Commission.
As many as 1500 businesses around Australia will be audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman as part of efforts to ensure hospitality employees are receiving minimum entitlements, including hourly rates, shift loadings and penalty rates.
In June, Fairfax Media reported 59 per cent of audited Canberra restaurants and cafes were in breach of their obligations.
About three-quarters of audited restaurants in Gungahlin and Belconnen were fined for paying employees incorrect wages, not keeping accurate records or failing to issue payslips.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the hospitality industry generated a large number of complaints about compliance with workplace laws.
''This sector employs many young and foreign workers who can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights,'' Ms James said.
She said they could be reluctant to complain, and often did not know how to approach a concern about their entitlements.
''While it's important we ensure workers are receiving their full entitlements, we'll also work with industry bodies and individual businesses to ensure employers are aware of their obligations and meet them,'' Ms James said.
Canberra and Goulburn businesses face audit, along with those in each state and territory in the second phase of a wider three-year campaign.
In early 2013, inspectors audited hundreds of accommodation providers, pubs and taverns and Ms James said takeaway food operators would face scrutiny early next year.
''If inspectors find minor or inadvertent contraventions, we will work with them to voluntarily rectify the issues and put systems in place to ensure they're getting it right in the future.
''In cases where a contravention is blatant, repeated, or employers are not willing to promptly resolve an issue, we may escalate the audit to a full investigation and call on powers to compel compliance,'' she said.
Louise Tarrant, national secretary of hospitality union United Voice, welcomed the audit and said workers were often paid cash-in-hand without penalty rates and superannuation.
''Many employers in the restaurant and catering industry are blatant in their contempt for basic minimum entitlements,'' she said. ''They openly argue they shouldn't have to pay award wages and complain that the challenges of compliance with the law are overwhelming.
''This looks remarkably like an excuse to increase profits at the expense of their low-paid workforce,'' she added.
Previous breaches in Canberra's hospitality sector have led to widespread complaints by employees.
In June, 482 underpaid ACT employees recovered almost $280,000 as a result of the investigations, with one company forced to provide $26,000 in back pay to six casual employees wrongly paid part-time rates.