Fight for Wollongong workers’ backpay ongoing

A two-month Fairfax Media investigation uncovered claims of exploitation in cafes, restaurants and shops across the Illawarra.
A two-month Fairfax Media investigation uncovered claims of exploitation in cafes, restaurants and shops across the Illawarra.

Hundreds of workers, who claim they were ripped off by their employers, have come forward on the back of a Fairfax Media investigation into employee underpayments.

The revelation comes as the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) continues its fight to ensure the young workers who told their stories as part of the investigation get what they are owed.

As part of the reimbursement process, SCLC secretary Arthur Rorris is this week contacting employers who allegedly underpaid staff.

A two-month Fairfax Media investigation into the underpayment of workers aged 18 to 24 – revealed in the Mercury in December –  uncovered claims of exploitation in cafes, restaurants and shops across the Illawarra. 

READ MORE: The great student swindle

Thirteen workers – allegedly underpaid, or not paid at all, by their employers – shared their stories publicly.

Businesses have now been given a week to respond to a SCLC request to talk about the 13 workers’ outstanding entitlements, Mr Rorris said.

“We’re putting out the call this week to employers; we’ll give them some time to digest the seriousness of the issue and their responsibilities here,” he said.

“Our objective is to actually get the entitlements that are legally owed to those workers back in their pockets.

“If there are some employers out there who ... continue to behave unlawfully in their responsibility to be paying the correct amount of wages, then we will certainly escalate our response both publicly and legally.” 

The union plans to sit down with each employer and work through underpayment claims from workers. 

“We want to do that as quickly and professionally as we can, and we certainly hope that the employers in question approach it in a similar manner,” he said.

If employers were “cooperative”, many of the workers’ claims could be finalised within weeks, Mr Rorris said.

He warned businesses who “choose to stick their head in the sand” that the issue wasn’t going away.

“This should send a ... very strong message to all employers in our region that we are getting large numbers of complaints, referrals and tip-offs coming through,” he said. 

Mr Rorris said hundreds of “queries, inquiries and complaints” had been received since Fairfax Media broke the story and encouraged any worker who believed they’ve been underpaid to contact their union.

Alternatively, call the Claim Your Pay hotline on 1300 486 466 or visit claimyourpay.com.au.