New Soma claims

THE Fair Work Ombudsman has confirmed Fremantle restaurant Soma Kitchen is being investigated over further claims of staff being underpaid.

The restaurant closed its doors on Monday after being hit with a hefty $21,924 fine in the Federal Circuit Court for paying one employee just $200 for about 146 hours of work.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker, whose department launched the prosecution, said Soma and director Giancarlo Daniele could have avoided the big fine if they hadn’t ignored an earlier Compliance Notice.

“We make every effort to secure voluntary compliance … [but] we are prepared to take legal action to ensure workers receive their lawful entitlements,” Ms Parker said.

Judge Christopher Kendall found Soma had shown a “complete disregard for their legal obligations” and showed no contrition, with Mr Daniele telling a compliance officer the notice was “sitting on my desk to action. I might do it today.”

Prior to the successful prosecution, former Soma Kitchen manager Baktiar (Bart) Mahat reached out to the Herald saying he and three other employees were all owed outstanding wages that dated back to before the Covid-19 shutdown.

Mr Mahat claims he is owed around $2000 in outstanding paycheques, and has never received superannuation.

“He owes my head chef $19,000 in wages,” he said.

Mr Mahat said as manager of Soma Kitchen, and Mr Daniele’s previous restaurant Sandrino’s, he was aware of staff being underpaid but never expected to be on the receiving end himself.

“One chef, his wife was 36 weeks pregnant and she lost the child. He begged Mr Daniele ‘can I get paid’, and he told him ‘you get paid when I get paid’,” Mr Mahat said. 

Mr Mahat said he and his colleagues all lodged complaints with the Fair Work Ombudsman, but the process had dragged on so long they weren’t even sure it was still being investigated. He says the last communication with the ombudsman’s office was “a couple of months ago” when someone rang to say they were having difficultly getting in contact with Mr Daniele.

Mr Mahat said he did receive two cheques from the restaurateur a while back, but while his claim dated to pre-Covid days the payments were, curiously, exactly the same as a JobKeeper payment after tax.

The Herald asked the ombudsman’s office if Soma was also being investigated over JobKeeper payments, but a spokesperson would only confirm it was “conducting further inquiries” and urged any workers with concerns to call the department on 13 13 94.

The Herald tried contacting Mr Daniele but did not get a response.

by STEVE GRANT

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