One of Melbourne's most famous restaurants was caught underpaying its staff

Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

For nearly three decades the upmarket St Kilda’s Cafe Di Stasio has been a Melbourne icon and its owner, Ronnie Di Stasio, a highly-lauded industry legend.

But Di Stasio, a prominent patron of the arts, and his upmarket Italian eatery have been forced pay six staff more than $35,000 following a Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigation.

FWO inspectors headed to the Fitzroy Street restaurant last year to investigate after allegations of underpayments emerged in The Age 12 months ago.

The inspectors concluded restaurant underpaid four chefs and two bar staff more than $35,000 between September, 2015 and May, 2016. Nearly half that figure was owed to a casual chef underpaid $17,481.

One casual chef was underpaid nearly $800 after working a 54-hour week because he was paid an average of $20 an hour, despite being entitled to a minimum hourly rate of $25.16 for ordinary hours, an evening shift rate of $27.17 and weekend rates of up to $35.23.

Five of the six foreign workers were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas, with the other on a 457 temporary skilled worker visa. Four were aged under 24.

A bowl of spaghetti with pork and beef ragout for dinner at Cafe Di Stasio can cost up to $43.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said there was “significant undercutting” of the minimum hourly, overtime and penalty rates under the industry award.

Record-keeping and pay slip laws were also breached.

Di Stasio cooperated and promptly back-paid all workers in full, the Fair Work Ombudsman said.

The restaurateur and his company entered into an enforceable undertaking with the ombudsman as an alternative to legal action and will be subject to twice annual external audits.

They will also display a workplace notice detailing their contraventions, apologise to affected employees and commission training on workplace relations laws for managerial staff.

Ombudsman Natalie James said there was no excuse for any business to underpay its staff.

“Visa holders are entitled to the same minimum rates as Australian workers,” she said.

The underpayment of overseas workers appears to be a growing problem across all sectors, with the office of the FWO recovering more than $3 million last financial year, including $1.37 million of this for 417 visa-holders.

A three-year focus on the hospitality industry that ended last year saw the FWO claw back more than $1.2 million for underpaid employees at restaurants, cafes and catering companies in Australia.

When the Victorian government announced last year that Sunday, December 25, was a public holiday, it led Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO John Hart to complain that “what would have once been a viable trading day for some operators may no longer stack up”.

“Christmas Day cannot be gazetted as a public holiday as has been proposed. The impact will be catastrophic for the tourism and hospitality industry as well as state employment,” Hart said.

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