Since Angelos Atimos moved to Australia from Greece seven years ago, he has been working in the hospitality industry.
For the first two years he was being paid under the minimum wage, around $17.00 per hour which he says is not a liveable amount.
Angelos told Neos Kosmos that wage theft is rife in the industry, with some being paid as much as $7.00 under the minimum wage.
“[It is] really, really common. In fact I saw some people working for $15 and some people even $12. I knew a lady working 60 hours per week for $12 per hour; that was a ridiculous amount,” he says.
Angelos says many of the workers he met that were being underpaid were fellow Greeks, or from other countries with struggling economies “happy to just take $18.00.”
Meanwhile for those on Student Visas limited to legally working no more than 20 hours, being paid under award wages and in cash gave them the chance to work up to 50 hours.
Many businesses caught out underpaying their staff often put it down to a misinterpretation of the Award system, but National President of the United Workers Union, Jo-anne Schofield says that defies reason.
“Business and business groups should be able to interpret and apply the law,” Ms Schofield told Neos Kosmos.
“Our industrial relations system is actually far less complex than it has ever been – there were once dozens of Awards in hospitality, now there are only a few.”
She says there is a simple reason for the rise in wage theft, putting it down to “a culture in the industry where bosses will pay as little as they can get away with”.
“Wage theft has become endemic. Complexity is no excuse. If any business or business group genuinely feels the system is too complex, they can call the union,” Ms Schofield said.
She says that criminalising wage theft and increasing penalties will help, as well as putting systems in place to make recovering wages easier.
Digital union Hospo Voice has been working together with businesses on solutions through the Fair Plate Certified Employers scheme. In Victoria dozens of venues have become certified, having been checked for compliance with award pay and penalty rates.
“What these venues are showing is that you can run a hospitality business without ripping off your workers. What these honest businesses are angry about is that they have to compete with venues that are paying workers below the legislated minimums,” Ms Schofield said.
“We will hold employers to account.”