‘Barry’ Cafe Owners Are Now Threatening To Sue The Workers Who Spoke Out About Illegal Wages
"If the harassment continues... each one of you will be sued individually and collectively."
The owners of Melbourne’s Barry cafe have threatened to sue the employees who alleged they were being illegally underpaid earlier this week, describing the workers’ peaceful protest as “harassment”.
Waitress Anna Langford received an email on Wednesday from cafe co-owner Steve Petroulias, advising her that her next paycheck would be at the correct award rate, and that money owed to her would be paid in full.
“However if the harassment continues to hurt and devalue our business each one of you will be sued individually and collectively”, Petroulias added. He did not provide any information about what exactly he was threatening to sue the workers for, given that all they’ve done so far is publicly request legal wages.
Anna told Junkee that she has received the payslip mentioned in the email, and confirmed that it had been adjusted to the award rate. However, she said she has yet to receive any back pay for the months when she alleges she was paid below the legal rate. Beyond the brief email above, she has not received any indication from her employers that back pay will be paid.
In fact, she said, she and her fellow workers first found out that their employers intended to provide them with back pay when they heard Petroulias say so on ABC News, telling reporters they were not aware of the award rate, and that “if there is a mistake, I will correct it”.
“That was the weird thing,” Anna said, “because they told the ABC they were going to pay us everything we were owed, but not us until I pressed for a response with an email. That’s when I got the email saying we’d be paid what we were owed, but if all the ‘harassment’ didn’t stop we’d be sued.”
“Even though they’d told the national broadcaster, they still hadn’t told us. There was no communication.”
Anna said she and other workers also hadn’t received any communication from their bosses about whether they were still employed by Barry, which came into doubt when a number of employees’ shifts were cancelled indefinitely after they requested legal pay rates.
She said the only communication she had received from Barry’s owners since Monday’s protest, apart from the threat to sue her, was an email from Steve Petroulias several hours after the protest which read “Hi Anna, how can we resolve this ugly situation? Can we all sit down and come to an agreement”.
Anna said that email made her angry, because it was Petroulias’ refusal to hold a group meeting with workers that triggered the protest in the first place.
“I thought of course, now that it’s become an ‘ugly situation’ and damaged your business’s reputation you want to talk about it, but not when it hurt us,” she said. She emphasised that the protest was not violent or threatening.
“It had become a last resort for us to escalate to that, because we’d been ignored at every turn, always shut down,” she told Junkee.
Regarding the threat to sue her, Anna said she and the other workers couldn’t see what they’d done to deserve it.
“They used the term harassment, but I can’t see how what we’ve been doing is harassment. None of what us workers have done constitutes harassment. We tried to meet with them for ages, they blocked us at every turn, and eventually we had to just take things to the level we have now.”
“I can see why most hospo workers are too scared to say anything to their bosses if they’re being underpaid. If this is what happens to the few that do, then yeah.”
Earlier today, the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed to the ABC that it is investigating the alleged underpayment at Barry.
Barry co-owner Steve Petroulias declined to comment. You can read our previous story on Barry here.