Around 60 protesters descended on Barry cafe in Melbourne’s inner north on 23 April for a snap action against wage theft. The protest was called to expose the cafe’s treatment of a group of nine employees who asked to be paid the legal minimum rate.
The bosses of Barry have been underpaying their staff for years, paying a mere $18 per hour – up to $6 below the award rate for weekdays. The workers were also denied penalty rates for weekends and public holidays. Anna Langford, one of the former employees, says she is owed up to $10,000.
Before deciding to protest, Langford and eight of her co-workers co-signed an email to the bosses, asking to be paid the correct wages and to receive back pay for previous underpayments.
Barry’s bosses refused to engage with workers collectively, instead interrogating them individually. Langford and a co-worker then had their shifts cancelled. A third worker was sacked the next day.
Called by United Voice, the union covering hospitality workers, the protest outside the popular cafe was well received by onlookers. The crowd heard from the sacked workers and chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, pay your workers what you owe!”
Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, who is running in the state election for the Victorian Socialists, attended in solidarity. “It’s absolutely outrageous”, he said. “If you parked your car … in High Street … for more than an hour, Darebin Council would give you a fine … But if you own Barry and rip off your workers for years on end, no one gives a shit. So this law and order debate we’re having: how about we have a bit of law and order on these bosses who think they can run roughshod over the lives and the wages and conditions of ordinary people”.
Within days of the protest, Barry workers were contacted by their former boss and promised that they would be paid “any moneys owed”. Ironically, after refusing workers’ multiple requests to meet with them as a group, the Barry boss also threatened to sue the workers “collectively” if they didn’t stop protesting. Such is the confidence of even the dodgiest employers that the law is on their side.