Politics

These Young Workers Say They’re Owed Thousands In Unpaid Wages From A Melbourne Store

The workers protested outside Pressed Juices today.

Young workers staged a protest outside juice store Pressed Juices in Melbourne today, handing out free cups of juice to passers by as they called out the business for alleged wage theft and unpaid superannuation.

Pressed Juices, which operates a number of stores across Australia, is the latest popular franchise to face allegations of underpayment and wage theft from employees. Former staff at Pressed Juices allege that they have not received any superannuation contributions from their employer for years, and also that they are owed thousands of dollars of unpaid wages.

Junkee has spoken to two former Pressed Juices employees who allege they are owed several thousand dollars in unpaid wages each. One of those employees, Mingka, is owed $1895.31 in unpaid wages, annual leave and pay in lieu of notice after she was abruptly fired in March this year. She told Junkee that in the time she worked for Pressed Juices, from February 2017 to March 2018, she never received a single superannuation contribution from the company, and provided screenshots of her superannuation account which support this.

“I’d heard other staff talking about how their super hadn’t been paid so I rang the super company to ask them and discovered it hadn’t been made in the timeframe I’d been working for Pressed Juices,” Mingka said. She told Junkee that when she and other employees asked management about the missing super, they were usually told it was coming soon, or that it was somehow tied up with the ATO.

The payments still hadn’t arrived by March 2018, however, when Mingka was fired from her part-time sales role at Pressed Juices for reasons that she says were not clear to her. According to Mingka, Pressed Juices founder and CEO Leo Pegoli called her to say she was being fired for badmouthing him to other staff. When she asked for an example of what she’d done wrong, Mingka said Pegoli declined to provide one. “I said ‘I don’t know what I did, can you please give me an example?’, and he said ‘no, you know what you did,'” she told Junkee.

At the time she was fired, Mingka was just due to receive her fortnightly paycheck, and was owed wages for the preceding two weeks. She had also accrued annual leave which should have been paid out, as well as pay in lieu of notice due to her abrupt firing. She alleges that she has still not received this final paycheck.

“It’s impacted my life a lot because I’m a uni student, and I really need the money,” she told Junkee. “Two thousand dollars, that’s like, three months of my rent. Two thousand dollars for someone else is probably not that significant, but for me it’s extremely significant.”

Another staff member, Hannah, was employed full time by Pressed Juices from March 2016 to April 2018. She also alleges that she was not paid any superannuation throughout her time there, and says she is waiting on approximately $4600 in wages, as well as approximately 70 hours in annual leave, to be paid out following her resignation in April.

Hannah told Junkee she became aware of her missing superannuation payments in late 2016. “I spoke to my manager at the time about this, then the accountant and then the boss. At every instance we were told it was coming, at first we were waiting on a R&D grant to fulfil this, then the sale of a building and then the excuses kind of just dried up, and the same, unbelievable excuses were given,” she said.

Regarding the pay she is owed, which she estimates at just under $7000 in total, she told Junkee that “in the beginning I contacted management EVERY single day on this matter. I did this for a number of weeks, and either got the response that it was coming (in the first week) and then absolutely nothing.”

Both Hannah and Mingka have reached out to the Young Workers Centre, which has been contacting Pressed Juices about the outstanding pay on the workers’ behalf. The Young Workers Centre also helped organise today’s protest, in order to spread the word about the serious allegations made against the business.

“The system is broken when someone can rip so many workers off, year in, year out, and keep opening new businesses,” Young Workers Centre Coordinator Keelia Fitzpatrick said. “Young and vulnerable workers are copping the worst of these dodgy employment practices and the rules need to change to protect them so that serial wage thieves can’t keep doing it.”

When Junkee contacted Pressed Juices for comment on the allegations made against them, we received a response shortly afterwards from a customer service employee and store manager who identified herself as Sophie. She wrote that “I am reaching out to you not on behalf of the company or as a spokesperson, but as an existing happy employee.”

“After speaking to you today, I spoke to a number of the girls I work with. We are not a group of people being taken advantage of. We all personally know who initiated the complaints, and while unsurprising, it’s unfortunate that those few voices are now louder than the happy workers at the company who rely on and receive their livelihood from Pressed Juices,” she wrote.

She went on to describe her own positive experience at Pressed Juices, and added that “I can say of all who I spoke to this afternoon that we are deeply upset. We all love our jobs here, the products we sell and our customers.”

Despite repeated requests, Junkee has not received comment from a member of Pressed Juices management, though Sophie assured us our email had been passed on. Leo Pegoli has also been contacted for comment, but did not respond by time of publication. We will update this story if we receive a response.