The operator of two Melbourne La Porchetta restaurants who paid more than 100 young workers in pizza and soft drink has been fined $335,000 after an investigation by the federal workplace watchdog.
Ruby Chand, who runs two of the pizza chain's franchises in Pakenham and Berwick in the city's south-east, was found to have underpaid 111 teenage workers more than $250,000 over four years.
The Federal Circuit Court heard Chand had paid young cooks, kitchen hands and waiters below minimum wage and withheld annual leave entitlements. A number were employed under training programs which enabled Chand's companies to claim more than $45,000 in Commonwealth benefits.
The court was told that Chand, of Tecoma, had claimed the employees were given half-priced pizza and soft drink, which was being "offset" against their wages and entitlements.
"Such a practice belongs in the dark ages," Judge John O'Sullivan said.
“The irresistible inference was the conduct engaged in was part of a deliberate course of conduct by the respondents as to how the business, if it could be called that, was run.”
Chand was found guilty of breaking employment laws and has been ordered to back-pay $79,000 outstanding entitlements he has not yet voluntarily returned.
The companies which operate the restaurants - Bound for Glory Enterprises and Zillion Zenith International - have each been fined $139,507.50. Chand was personally fined $55,803.
The Fair Work Ombudsman began investigating the La Porchetta franchises after a parent of one of the young workers lodged a complaint.
Ombudsman Natalie James says the court's decision to impose such high penalties sent a strong message to others that exploitation of young and vulnerable workers "simply won't be tolerated".
La Porchetta’s head office said on Tuesday that it expected all its restaurants to pay their staff correctly and comply with the Fair Work Act.
‘‘While we know it is difficult for all small businesses to keep up with the changes, we make every effort to support our restaurants to be fully compliant and are confident that our franchisees are committed to meeting or exceeding their obligations,’’ chief executive Sara Pantaleo said.
‘‘We value the staff who work for our franchisees. We wish the staff of Berwick and Pakenham well and we are sorry if they had a negative experience working for these restaurants.’’
Ms Pantaleo said La Porchetta had entered into an agreement with Fair Work Australia to ‘‘assist compliance’’ of the pizza chain’s restaurants into the future.