Unions-trained volunteers will conduct a blitz of Canberra businesses this week to raise awareness about wage theft and worker's rights.
The UnionsACT-led "Summer Patrol" comes amid increased public attention on the problem of wage theft in corporate Australia, with the federal government now eyeing new measures to punish businesses which underpay staff.
UnionsACT secretary Alex White said a team of 20 volunteers would stand outside cafes, restaurants and shops on Monday, handing out information packs about the minimum wage and other worker's rights to young staff.
Mr White said the patrol would target streets in Civic, Braddon, Kingston and around ANU, as they had a high concentration of young workers.
The Australian Hotels Association last week called on UnionsACT to cancel the blitz, accusing it of attempting to circumvent industrial relations law so it could "disrupt legitimate business operations".
The peak body for unions is not itself a union, and its volunteers not organisers, meaning they don't need to apply for a right-of-entry permit to visit a workplace.
In a letter to Mr White, AHA ACT branch general manager Anthony Brierley said he had advised his members to treat the volunteers like members of the general public, meaning they could be kicked out of venues.
He noted an individual could be fined up to $3000 for refusing to leave a venue.
Mr White told The Canberra Times that the volunteers would not enter the businesses unless they were invited by supervisors or managers, stressing that the Summer Patrol was not "like a union visiting a workplace at lunchtime".
There is a wage theft crisis in Canberra and it is getting worseUnionsACT secretary Alex White
Union organisers would be involved on Monday morning, putting the volunteers through a "crash course" about wages, safety rights and payslips, he said.
Mr Brierley was not opposed to the patrol once told the volunteers would be stationed outside the businesses.
The Summer Patrol is an initiative of UnionsACT's Young Workers Centre.
Mr White said two smaller blitzes were conducted last year, and the timing of the latest patrol was not prompted by a string of recent high-profile wages scandals.
"We've been planning this for a while. There is a wage theft crisis in Canberra and it is getting worse," he said.
"It is unconscionable that there are still large employers who think it is OK to steal wages."
More than half of workers aged under 25 have experienced wage theft in the past six months, according to Mr White.
Mr Brierley commended efforts to crack down on worker exploitation. He was confident that his members were meeting their industrial relations obligations.
"Compliance is important for both the sustainability of our industry and the dignity of our workforce. The AHA ACT has no tolerance for employers who systematically exploit their staff," he said.