Greek restaurant ENA is the latest hospitality venue in Melbourne to be accused of allegedly underpaying staff, with some workers being paid well below the adult award rate.
Based in the buzzing Southgate precinct, the eatery opened its doors in 2016. But according to documents from November and December 2017 obtained by the ABC, the restaurant’s monetary success may not be attributed solely to its menu offering and service.
Detailed records reveal over half of the staff were paid at least partly or completely in cash, with one employee receiving just $16 per hour, which in the case of a work aged 18 and over, would mean they were getting paid more than eight dollars an hour below the award rate.
One spreadsheet titled ‘ENA Southbank Wages’ sees workers’ hours divided between two columns: ‘CASH’ and ‘BOOKS’, with almost a third of employees listed in the ‘CASH’ column.
According to hospitality union United Voice, which conducted an analysis on the spreadsheets, based on the figures seen, ENA’s owners could have made $75,000 in profit just by not paying superannuation, and their workers not paying income tax. In the case ENA was paying half of workers in cash, they may have even avoided paying Victoria’s payroll tax.
Meanwhile the documents also point to a possible breach of migration law. Eleven staff had a note next their name stating ‘max 20 hrs on the books’ with the rest of their hours in the cash column.
Foreign students on a visa are only permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours per week.
“The documentation is of the kind that we have never seen before,” United Voice’s Victorian Secretary, Jess Walsh told the ABC.
“We are aware anecdotally that lots of restaurants and cafes do run two sets of books. But we have never seen it documented in this way.”
According to the ABC, centre management had confirmed the owner of ENA was George Pezaros, founder of the Degani cafe chain, and that former staff of the restaurant had further confirmed his involvement in the day-to-day running of the business.
The company that licences the ENA brand, Funky Food Group has Nisi Investments Pty Ltd as a majority share holder, whose only two shareholders are Niki and Sia Pezaros, believed to be Mr Pezaros’ daughters.
However according to a statement obtained by the ABC, the group said they were not the business operator of ENA Southbank, but didn’t deny ties with Mr Pezaros, claiming they employ him as a “leasing agent”.
Neos Kosmos contacted Mr Pezaros to clarify the capacity within which he is involved with ENA. We were advised by his legal consultant that Mr Pezaros “is not a director or shareholder in the business” and as a result was not authorised to speak on behalf of the operator, and so declined to answer our questions.
Underpayment, and being paid off the books, appears to be a common occurrence in the hospitality industry, with ENA being just one of many Melbourne venues to be accused of underpaying staff, including Barry cafe and the restaurants managed by George Calombaris’ Made Establishment.
But it seems we have entered a new era, with hospitality workers set on fighting back.
To further assist them, United Voice launched Hospo Voice on Monday; a digital union offering employees the resources to check on their rate of pay, hours, and an avenue to report harassment in the workplace.