The Fair Work ombudsman announced today it will seek legal action against restaurateur Matteo Bruno and his company The Meatball and Wine Bar Pty Ltd. The ombudsman alleges Bruno underpaid 26 staff members “despite having received professional advice on its wage obligations.”

The alleged underpayments were first discovered by Fair Work inspectors after an audit at the company’s Richmond venue. The investigation then extended to the two other Meatball and Wine Bar sites in the CBD and Collingwood. Fair Work claims Bruno received advice from a private employment adviser prior to the discovery and had the assistance of accountants to manage the payroll.

Bruno tells Broadsheet “some discrepancies were picked up last year which were immediately rectified. Meatball and Wine Bar is in full compliance with the [Restaurant Industry] Award.”

Bruno says his lawyers had advised him to make no further comments before adding: “One lesson that I’ll take away from this is that leaving these things in the hands of third parties is something I’ll reconsider in the future.”

Despite the underpayments being rectified, Fair Work has decided to commence litigation because it feels the breaches showed “deliberate disregard for workers’ entitlements, including those of vulnerable young and migrant workers.”

“It is simply unacceptable for an employer to underpay workers after being directly advised on their obligations to meet minimum employee pay rates,” says Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James in a statement.

Wait staff and kitchen hands at three of the four locations run by the company in the CBD, Richmond and Collingwood were allegedly paid flat rates of between $17.31 and $21.69 per hour, which led to the underpayment of entitlements including minimum wage, overtime and penalty rates as well as casual loadings.

The affected staff members were allegedly underpaid $14,149 in total between July and October 2016. All but four of the staff members were in their 20s and included workers on a range of visa types including student and working holiday visas.

During the period one individual member of the wait staff was allegedly underpaid more than $1419 after being paid a flat rate of $17.95. Under the Restaurant Industry Award the staff member was entitled to $18.91 per hour and overtime rates of $28.37.

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