28 April 2019

Adele Ferguson’s exposé of bubble tea chain Chatime — which could owe $10 million in unpaid wages — is once again damning of the Fair Work Ombudsman. In 2018, it identified a $350,000 wage rip-off at Bakery Venture, but only issued a caution. Some of the same directors are involved at Chatime, including one who FWO says “was involved in the contraventions of [Chatime] during the assessment period” and was legally “knowingly concerned” in undercutting the award. But when a five month audit at a subset of Chatime stores found over $175,000 of underpayments, “The ombudsman decided not to make this investigation public or issue any penalties.” Meanwhile, leaked emails from Chatime’s lawyers show they assessed the underpayment of one worker as “at least $32,000 (ex super)” but suggested that her visa status should be exploited to make a lowball offer of $20,000. (Bear in mind that it is illegal to contract out of the statutory or award minimum wage and superannuation.) The law firm that gave this advice is “a subsidiary of the state’s peak business organisation, NSW Business Chamber.” The culture of exploitation in Australia’s business community is deep, and it is supported by a web of business consultants and advisors — and, sadly, the so-called Fair Work Ombudsman, too.