One of the most controversial topics to hit 2019 was the presence of wage theft within the foodservice industry. Protests and media scrutiny brought to light a problem that has plagued the industry for a while now. The penny dropped in 2017 when celebrity MasterChef judge George Calombaris was slammed by the federal government for underpaying staff $2.6 million. Unfortunately, this story may only be the tip of the iceberg, with more cases of wage theft being raised.
It’s a positive sign for the hospitality industry that this problem is finally being recognised and offenders are being held accountable. However, if you’re a foodservice professional, it’s important to be aware of what wage theft looks like, what it does to the industry and the actions you can take to protect yourself.
What is wage theft?
Wage theft comes in many shapes and sizes, so it’s often hard to get your head around. The term itself was originally coined by unions, but has since been employed by mainstream media. To quote the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s “the practice of paying workers less than they are entitled to under Australia’s workplace relations system.” This term covers underpayment of wages, incorrect lodging of hours or withholding leave entitlements (just to name a few).
Why is it prevalent in foodservice?
It’s tough to pin down exactly why hospitality professionals cop it so bad. But here’s a few potential reasons:
How this affects the industry
There are a few ways to look at this, with a wealth of implications for the industry. But here’s just some of the negative effects of wage theft:
How to protect yourself
There’s no one way about it, but if you’ve made it this far through the article, you’re already on the right path. Arguably, the best practice is to keep yourself properly informed, which may result in some very dry late-night reading, but if it means building confidence around what you’re owed it’s worth it. Hospo Unions are hard to come by, but online groups such as Hospo Voice are a positive start. They’re constantly on the front foot with cases of wage theft as well as other foodservice related issues.
If you suspect that you’re being paid unlawfully, Fair Work Australia has some helpful notes and a number to call for advice and guidance.