The Owner Of Melbourne’s ‘Burger Buzz’ Was Just Fined $300,000 For Exploiting Young Workers

Todd Buzza refused to pay young workers the thousands they were owed.

underpayment burger buzz

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The former owner of Melbourne burger store Burger Buzz was just slapped with penalties of more than $300,000 for exploiting young and migrant workers, in what the Fair Work Ombudsman is calling the latest wake-up call for the hospitality industry.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Jones described Burger Buzz owner Todd Buzza’s conduct as “blatant” and “extraordinary”, issuing him with a penalty of $51,735. His company Rum Runner Trading Pty Ltd was fined an additional $258,495.

Do you have a story of being illegally underpaid by your employer? Email [email protected].

The penalties were the result of two separate legal actions brought against Buzza and his business by the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2016, after he refused to pay backpay to underpaid workers despite court orders to do so. The first legal action concerned Buzza underpaying seven workers by $7113, while the second concerned a further $7513 owed to another five workers. The Fair Work Ombudsman told the court there may be further underpayment by Burger Buzz, but that the business failed to keep adequate records.

Young workers protested outside Brunswick Burger Buzz in November last year, alleging that their employer owed them thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. In some cases, workers said they had never been paid by Burger Buzz, and were worried they never would be given that the restaurant was hastily shut down a few days before the protest.

Adding to their worry was the fact that this is not the first time Todd Buzza has been in hot water over his business conduct. In late 2013, Consumer Affairs Victoria issued a public warning about Buzza, writing that he is “a former bankrupt who advertises cheap building services, using several business names”, and that Consumer Affairs had received several complaints alleging Buzza accepted payment for work he hadn’t completed.

Sadly, yesterday’s penalties came too late for many of the young workers involved, some of whom were owed wages going back to 2016. The workers told the court the months of underpayment led to difficulties affording rent, food and bills — in one case, a worker had to sell his belongings to afford everyday living costs, while another had to move interstate to stay with her parents. Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James tweeted today that Todd Buzza still has not paid workers what they are owed.

“It is completely unacceptable that workers should have to struggle to afford food, rent and bills because their employer fails to pay them what they are lawfully entitled to – but that is the unfortunate reality for some workers,” James said.

“A disturbing culture of non-compliance has emerged in the restaurant, cafe and fast food sector that is completely unacceptable.”

Young Workers Centre solicitor Keelia Fitzpatrick agreed, and told Junkee that penalties for all-too-frequent workplace exploitation need to be increased.

“Dodgy employers who repeatedly steal from workers aren’t deterred by warnings or civil court cases and don’t think that they’ll be caught. Only the threat of jail time will make them stop — this is why we need wage theft to be made a criminal offence.”

“The Fair Work Ombudsman have been ‘educating’ Todd Buzza about wage laws for years. Education and FWO have failed the young and migrant workers that Todd Buzza has continued to rip off. It’s time to change the rules to make sure that wage thieves face real consequences.”

Junkee was unable to reach Todd Buzza for comment.

If you’re a young person in Victoria and you’re concerned about wage theft or workplace exploitation, the Young Workers Centre can help. You can find their website here.