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A Hipster Melbourne Coffee Chain Has Forked Out $50K In Unpaid Wages And Super For Young Workers

“A lot of people will tell you that [wage underpayment] is just part of working in hospitality – but it shouldn’t be like that," one employee told BuzzFeed News.

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A trendy group of Melbourne coffee shops has compensated young workers for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and superannuation.

Code Black, which serves black brioche buns and jalapeno cashew cream in Brunswick, North Melbourne and Southgate, has over the past 12 months back paid three young workers a total of about $50,000 in wages and superannuation.

The cafes were described by food and culture guide Broadsheet as "a reminder of the value of craftsmanship for the iGeneration" while Fairfax Media praised the menu for being a "mash-up of French-toasted gingerbread and baked silken tofu and breakfast couscous steamed in fruit juice".

But at least three workers were not paid their award wages, weekend penalty rates or enough superannuation.

One of the workers, Harriet, worked for the hospitality business for 16 months up until October 2016, but only realised six months into her employment that she was being underpaid.

"I found out that $17.20 per hour was well below the award rate [$22.63] and so I had a meeting with my manager," the 25-year-old said.

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"She was horrified and my pay went up to $19.20 and I was told that was all that they could pay me, and that we were a family and we were trying to look after each other.

"They really played on all this emotive bullshit that I was part of this Code Black family narrative."

Harriet said workers didn't get paid penalty rates on weekends.

"So if I had worked a long Saturday and long Sunday I was down hundreds of dollars."

Harriet contacted the Young Workers Centre, a team of lawyers assisting young people to enact their rights at work, and sent an email to Code Black's management.

"They paid me $13,000 in [wage] under-payments within a week," she said.

Young Workers Centre coordinator Keelia Fitzpatrick said she had assisted three workers in a total of $50,000 worth of underpayment claims against Code Black.

"It’s the same story every single time," Fitzpatrick told BuzzFeed News.

Harriet was paid double her hourly rate on public holidays – the Restaurant Industry Award [the minimum wage and entitlement agreements of her industry] dictates that casual workers should be paid 250%, she said.

“When customers find out that a business is charging a public holiday surcharge, they expect that money is being passed on to workers – not being pocketed by greedy business owners," she said.

“A lot of people will tell you that [wage underpayment] is just part of working in hospitality – but it shouldn’t be like that," one worker, who was back paid $13,000 in wages by Code Black in March, told BuzzFeed News.

"I didn't notice it week-to-week, but looking back, the amount of money I received in back payment is massive," said a third worker, who was compensated $18,000 by Code Black for lost wages.

Code Black's Brad Davis told BuzzFeed News the business valued its staff and that it was important employees were paid correctly.

"We recognise that a mistake was made, and we took immediate steps to remedy it promptly and amicably as soon as we were aware of it," Davis said.

"We then reviewed all our processes to ensure that all staff were being paid correct wages and entitlements, and we have been doing so."

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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