By SALONEE MISTRY,
social issues editor
Pressed Juices stores have been targeted by protesters in Melbourne after the company became embroiled in a series of wage theft accusations from several former employees who are allegedly owed thousands of dollars.
The We Are Union: Young Workers and Young Workers Centre, who staged the protest on behalf of the employees, handed out free cups of juice to passers by in Collins St last Wednesday.
Mingka*, who was present at the protest and is an ex-employee of Pressed Juices, said she had not been paid for more than five months and had barely managed to survive.
“I didn’t have a job and had taken a break from studying as well. I had to go on job seekers allowance which is not much. I could barely make rent and as such couldn’t afford travel, food and essentials,” she said.
Mingka said her family had been supportive throughout and that was what had kept her afloat.
She said Pressed Juices owed her close to $2000 in salary, accrued annual leave and superannuation.
Another ex-employee of the company, Hannah*, said she was also out of pocket, with the company owing her four weeks of full-time salary, 71 hours of accrued annual leave and 2.25 years of superannuation contributions.
Apart from being unable to pay rent on time, the feeling of not knowing when the next pay cheque was coming was nerve-racking for her.
“It was really hard to budget and I constantly owed my friends money. I felt like it detracted from my quality of life. The payslips were coming but no pay. I had no control over my finances,” she said.
Mingka and Hannah both said they contacted Leo Pegoli, director of Pressed Juices Pty Ltd, about their salaries, they were given a date when they would be paid.
When the money still did not come and they tried calling him again, but he refused to pick up their calls or reply to their messages, they said.
The company is in the process of liquidating their assets and have already shut down many of their outlets.
Through the Australian Workers Union, Mingka and Hannah tried retrieving their money legally, with no success. Both said protesting about it felt like the next best thing.
The protest attracted close to 20 people who stood with signs and chanted slogans. Pedestrians on their way into work were also offered freshly squeezed orange juice along with flyers on the issue.
Dylan Goldsworthy, the campaign manager at We are Union: Young Workers, said a lack of awareness of the rights of workers was one of the biggest causes of wage theft.
“There is a need for the workers to stand up in situations like this and go collectively to the administration,” he said.
“Wage theft is a growing problem in low skilled jobs and the fact that the workers don’t know what their rights are, adds to the chaos.”
* Did not want to give her full name