Melbourne restaurant suspected of systemic wage fraud
A Melbourne restaurant has been suspected of systemic underpayment of staff, according to a series of documents uncovered by ABC.
The documents reportedly reveal employees at ENA Greek Street Food were paid partly or entirely in cash and were paid as little as $16 an hour, well below the adult award rate.
The documents, which cover November and December 2017, divide staff working hours between two columns: “cash” and “books”.
Some employees only appear in the cash column, including a chef who appears to have been paid $1800 a week all in cash, suggesting his employment was not on the books.
The records show another employee received a cash payment of $907 while their “on the books” wage was listed as $400.
The documents also appear to possibly exploit student visa rules, which stipulate foreign students can only work up to 20 hours per week. ENA’s records show 11 employees have a note next to their name saying “max 20 hours on the books”, with extra hours of work recorded in the “cash” column.
Hospitality union group United Voice estimates ENA could have pocketed more than $75,000 a year in unpaid superannuation contributions and income tax. The group also believes the system may have brought the restaurant’s wage bill down low enough to avoid paying Victoria’s payroll tax.
United Voice’s Victorian secretary told the ABC the documentation is unlike anything the group has seen before.
“We are aware anecdotally that lots of restaurants and cafes do run two sets of books,” she says. “But we have never seen it documented in this way.”
The restaurant opened in 2016 in the Southgate Shopping Precinct in Southbank. The restaurant’s centre management have confirmed hospitality figure George Pezaros is the owner, however the restaurant is reportedly in the process of being sold.
According to ABC, there is no documentation to show Pezaros is connected to ENA or Funky Food Group, which licenses the restaurant, however former ENA staff have confirmed Pezaros was involved with day-to-day operations.
The majority shareholder of Funky Food Group is Nisi Investments Pty Ltd, whose two shareholders are Niki and Sia Pezaros, believed to be Pezaros’ daughters.
Funky Food Group released a statement saying it does not operate ENA restaurant at Southbank and has no involvement in the running of the business. However the group confirmed that it employs George Pezaros as a “leasing agent”.
Image credits: ABC