Hospitality employers who exploit and underpay workers should be imprisoned, says a chairperson of a Victorian peak union body.
Virginia Mansel Lees, president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, has condemned the practice of inadequate, cash-in-hand payments by restaurant owners, an act that she says can put employees at risk of homelessness.
Workers employed cash-in-hand or in unauthorised positions cannot be protected by the 10 National Employment Standards set out by Fair Work. Entitlements denied include annual leave, notice of termination and maximum weekly hours.
“They’re being taken advantage of like nothing else,” says Ms Mansel-Lees.
“Those people (employers) should be in jail.”
Former hospitality employee Atakan Caliskan, 20, has first-hand experience of poor treatment. He commenced work at a Brunswick restaurant about two months ago, after eight months of unemployment. He applied for the job on popular classifieds network Gumtree and was offered a back-of-house position after a 15-minute interview.
Mr Caliskan was led to believe that his duties were limited to the kitchen – cooking and cleaning.
He received a rude shock when he arrived at the restaurant the next day.
He would be running the business alone – opening the restaurant at 11:30am and closing at 10pm. A total of 63 working hours per week, paid below the minimum wage, with no applicable overtime rates or breaks.
Worse still, Mr Caliskan says that his ex-employer boasted about a history of deception.
“On my first day, an angry man came to my register and said he used to work for the restaurant. My boss apparently owed him $820.”
Mr Caliskan says he observed the hiring and firing of five people in the month he had been employed.
His initial passion for hospitality has rapidly dissipated.
“I think our work is undervalued, by the boss and by customers.
“All they do is complain and they don’t realise it’s not easy to do what we do.”
With imprisonment an unlikely outcome, Ms Mansel-Lees says customers should not be accommodating towards employers who blatantly exploit workers and break labour laws.
“We’re able to go out and enjoy hospitality. We need to make sure we’re not looking down on those who serve us.”
“If you don’t challenge that sort of stuff, then you’re complicit in it.”