Mamak restaurant owners allegedly underpaid staff by more than $87,000

The popular restaurant attracts large crowds, but has not escaped the attention of the Fair Work Ombudsman. Photo: Peter SchofieldThe operators of Chinatown’s highly awarded and ever-popular Mamak restaurant are facing court after allegedly underpaying six employees to a tune of more than $87,000 and using false records to disguise the underpayments.

The Malaysian restaurant on Goulburn Street, which is famous for its long queues and fast service, allegedly paid rates as low as $11 an hour to the casual staff over more than three years.

One employee is believed to have been underpaid by $26,793 while another was allegedly owed $21,538.

In total, the workers – four of whom were international students and one a bridging visa holder – were allegedly underpaid $87,349 between February 2012 and April 2015.

Under the Restaurant Industry Award, five adults should have been paid more than $22 for normal hours, while a junior casual staffer could claim more than $13, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

While under investigation by Fair Work, the restaurant allegedly disguised the underpayments, which have since been reimbursed, by providing false documents as well as breaking laws relating to pay slips and access to information.

The government body has commenced legal action against restaurant owner-operators Joon Hoe Lee, Julian Lee and Alan Wing-Keung Au and their company Mamak Pty Ltd, which also oversees restaurants in Chatswood and Melbourne.

The owners face penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention while the company may be fined up to $51,000 per contravention.

The restaurant has received a clutch of awards since launching in 2007, including Epicure’s Best New Global Gem in 2012 and a place on Time Out’s Best Cheap Eats list.

John Hart, CEO of Restaurants and Catering Association Australia said he could not comment on the individual case, but that while the industry body would never condone any sort of breach of awards or employment conditions, restaurant operators face an “extremely complex” pay structure.

“In an environment that is as extremely complex as our awards, it doesn’t surprise me when any business is found to be in non-compliance.

“There is in excess of 60 different rates an individual may be paid for performing fundamentally the same job.”

A directions hearing is listed for February 5 at Sydney’s Federal Circuit Court.

Fairfax Media has contacted Mamak for comment.

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