Melbourne burger bar fined $300,000 for exploiting workers

10 May, 2018 by
Brittney Levinson

The former operator of a popular Melbourne burger bar has been penalised more than $300,00 for exploiting young and overseas workers.

Todd Patrick Buzza, who formerly owned and ran Burger Buzz outlets in Brunswick and West Melbourne, has been fined $51,735 and his company Rum Runner Trading Pty Ltd has been fined an additional $258,495 over the exploitation.

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The penalties, imposed in the Federal Circuit Court, are the result of the Fair Work Ombudsman taking two separate legal actions against Buzza and his company for what Judge Suzanne Jones called “blatant” and “extraordinary” conduct.

The Fair Work Ombudsman launched its first legal action against Buzza and his company in June 2016, after they underpaid seven workers a total of $7113 for work performed across the two Burger Buzz outlets and refused to comply with Compliance Notices requiring back-payment.

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The second legal action was launched in December 2016, where Buzza was found to have short-changed a further five employees who worked at the Brunswick outlet a total of $7513.

Most of the underpaid workers were young or overseas workers, including a number of university students and 417 working holiday visa-holders, who were generally engaged for short periods of between five days and 11 weeks and often worked night and weekend shifts.

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Five of the employees were paid nothing, while most of the others were paid less than half of what they were entitled to – and that was often only after they made extensive efforts to chase Buzza for payment.

Buzza and his company also failed to comply with a Notice to Produce records and contravened laws relating to pay slips, frequency-of-pay and meal breaks.

Despite the Court having ordered Buzza and his company to back-pay the workers in June last year, all underpayments remain outstanding.

The case is the latest of a string of penalties secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman against hospitality industry employers. Restaurants, cafés and takeaway food outlets accounted for 29 per cent of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s litigations in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says this is a wake-up call to the hospitality industry to improve widespread non-compliance.

“It is deplorable that nearly one third of the most serious cases that end up in court involve this one sector,” she says.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman’s experience and data suggests that a disturbing culture of non-compliance has emerged in the restaurant, cafe and fast food sector that is completely unacceptable. There is a growing intolerance in the community for underpayment of workers in this sector.”

In 2016-17 the hospitality industry also constituted 39 per cent of anonymous tip-offs from workers received by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

“It’s not good enough to pay employees unlawfully low rates because that’s what the business next door does or because that’s what the person you bought the business off did,” she says.

“Even if you haven’t heard of us – if you google ‘wage rates’, you are immediately directed to our Pay Calculator. You don’t have to try very hard to at least get on the pathway to compliance. Too often, though, we find businesses that have not even made the most basic of inquiries – or worse, have been the beneficiary of tailored advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman or some other adviser and chosen to ignore it.”

Image credit: Zomato