Canberra restaurant operator in court

The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action in the Federal Circuit Court against the former operator of an Italian restaurant in Canberra.

Facing court is GK Food Bars & Restaurants Pty Ltd, which operated the restaurant La Pasteria in Greenway, and company director Mr George Varvaritis.

The regulator investigated after receiving requests for assistance from two former employees.

A Fair Work Inspector issued a Compliance Notice to GK Food Bars & Restaurants in January 2020 after forming a belief the company had failed to correctly pay the two employees.

The inspector believed one employee, who worked on a casual basis as a cook from May to July 2019, was underpaid casual minimum rates and superannuation owed under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010.

The inspector believed the other employee, a full-time head chef who worked from April to August last year, was underpaid the national minimum wage for hours worked in his final two weeks of work and not paid accrued annual leave entitlements at the end of his employment.

The FWO alleges the company, without reasonable excuse, failed to comply with the Compliance Notice which required it to calculate and back-pay the workers’ entitlements.

Mr Varvaritis is alleged to have been involved in the company’s non-compliance with the notice.

In line with the FWO’s proportionate approach to regulation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FWO made several attempts to secure voluntary compliance before commencing legal action.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the regulator would continue to enforce workplace laws and take businesses to court where lawful requests are not complied with.

“Under the Fair Work Act, Compliance Notices are important tools used by inspectors if they form a belief that an employer has breached workplace laws,” Ms Parker said.

“Where employers do not comply with our requests, we will take appropriate action to protect employees. A court can order the business to pay penalties in addition to back-paying workers.”

“Any employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free assistance.”

The FWO is seeking penalties against GK Food Bars & Restaurants Pty Ltd and Mr Varvaritis. The regulator is also seeking a court order for the company to comply with the Compliance Notice, which includes rectifying any underpayments in full, plus superannuation and interest.

The company faces a maximum penalty of $31,500 while Mr Varvaritis is facing a maximum penalty of $6,300. A directions hearing has been listed in the Federal Circuit Court in Canberra on 27 January 2021. The restaurant is no longer operating.

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