At least 52 businesses across Wollongong are alleged to have been underpaying staff after a local woman decided to take a stand against the tacit practice.
Ashleigh Mounser, a recent graduate from the University of Wollongong said that while many young people in the Illawarra were aware of a culture of employees being underpaid, she was shocked with the hourly rates some business owners were offering, sometimes as low as $5 an hour.
“Everyone kind of knows about it but I didn’t realise it was that bad. I’ve been offered $10 before by a noodle shop. I went to a whole bunch of interviews and the majority of interviews were offering under $15,” Ashleigh said.
While searching for a second job, Ashleigh went to several interviews at fast food stores. At an interview at a chicken shop she was offered only $12 an hour, far below the minimum rate for her age. While she thought this was unacceptably low, she took the job with the mindset that she could keep looking for better paid work while still earning at least some money. After two days of work she went to an interview at another chicken shop. Unbeknownst to her the store was owned by the same man who hired her at the first chicken shop. Without realising he was already employing Ashleigh, he offered her the even lower rate of $10 an hour.
Fed up with how brazenly some employers were underpaying, Ashleigh posted on the UOW students Buy and Sell Facebook page where she asked for anyone who was being paid illegally to contact her so that she could submit a group complaint to Fair Work Australia.
The response, Ashleigh says, has been phenomenal.
“I have the names of 52 businesses. But quite a lot of those have more than one account. People have contacted me and they can name three or four businesses themselves. That was the position I was in. I could name three businesses, my boyfriend could name three businesses so we had six before we even started,” Ashleigh said.
According to Fair Work Australia the minimum wage for a casually employed fast food worker 21 years or older is $24.30 an hour. For a restaurant or café worker of the same age, the casual rate is $22.76 per hour. Despite this, many people who contacted Ashleigh were being paid far less.
“I thought $10 was obnoxious but there are so many people accepting less than $10,” she said.
“They’re off the books but then they tax them [the employees] 50% of their pay when they’re literally getting only $10 an hour. They don’t have a tax file number, they’re not on the books – they’re literally just stealing from them and calling it tax. So these employees are really getting $5 an hour.”
In addition to being underpaid,