Hospitality

Former bartender takes Melbourne restaurant Chin Chin to court claiming $9,000 in underpayments

Emma Koehn /

A former bartender at Melbourne restaurant Chin Chin is taking the business to court with allegations she was underpaid by more than $9,000 after regularly completing overtime over a nine-month period.

Twenty-four year old Sorcha Harrop will be represented by Maurice Blackburn laywers in the Melbourne Magistrate’s court today, claiming she was underpaid $9,454 while working at the venue, which is owned by hospitality operator the Lucas Group.

Harrop alleges while working at Chin Chin between October 2016 and July 2017, she was regularly completing 14 hour shifts and lost out on overtime and superannuation payments.

Speaking to the Herald Sun, senior associate at Maurice Blackburn Daniel Victory said this could be a test case on overtime in the hospitality industry, believing staff in the sector were regularly being underpaid for the overtime hours.

The Lucas Group has denied claims there is a systematic issue affecting correct payments for staff, with the business quick to assert it was trying to resolve Harrop’s concerns, which amounted to a unique case.

Chin Chin owner Chris Lucas told the Herald Sun the business was committed to resolving the concerns.

“I am committed to ensuring The Lucas Group’s valued employees are paid correctly,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the underpayment claims have been referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman. SmartCompany contacted the ombudsman’s office to confirm whether it was currently in conversations with Chin Chin or the Lucas Group, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

The Lucas Group did not respond to requests for comment.

Concerns about hospitality payments continue

Concerns about staff payments in the hospitality sector have bubbled away this year, with the likes of George Calombaris’ MAdE Establishment repaying workers millions after a systems error resulted in underpayments.

Hospitality union United Voice says the payments issue is a top concern in Australia’s restaurant sector, with the Victorian branch saying a recent survey of more than 600 hospitality worker wages in the state revealed 75% reported being paid less than they should be entitled to under the Hospitality Industry-general award.

More than half of the workers surveyed said they did unpaid overtime, including casual workers who worked additional hours without pay. Meanwhile, 41% of workers surveyed said they had completed unpaid trials within a business before getting a job.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has highlighted sectors that employ large numbers of youth and international workers, including hospitality, as an area of focus.

The ombudsman’s office reminds businesses they can request employees work overtime in reasonable circumstances, but only provided a number of conditions are met. 

These conditions include the worker is given enough notice that they have to work additional hours, there are no risks to health and safety and they are compensated either through overtime payments or a higher overall rate on the understanding they have to complete overtime on occasion.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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