Mingka Macdonald got used to being owed money by juice bar chain Pressed Juices when she worked there.
“We were always paid late and we always had to chase it,” she said.
Ms Macdonald said she is owed about $2000 in unpaid wages and another $2000 in superannuation but the prospect of getting her money is diminishing with Pressed Juices shutting all but two of its 20 stores around Australia.
“The $2000 I’m owed is about three months of rent for me,” Ms McDonald said. “I was a student living pay check to pay check and having that taken away from me had a massive impact.”
At one of the last remaining stores in Melbourne visited by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, customers who came in asking to buy sandwiches were turned away with only juice left on the shelves.
A lone staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had been told to take cash out of the till at the end each shift to pay herself.
Shutting down ‘out of the blue’
A spokesperson for Pressed Juices denied there were any problems with the businesses.
The chain was founded by Leo Pegoli who built it into 20 juice stores across Australia and Hong Kong which turned over “in excess” of $15 million a year.
Staff members became worried last year when stores started being shut down “out of the blue”.
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Most recently, Pressed Juices’ flagship store at 567 Collins Street in Melbourne was shuttered and a notice of re-entry pinned to the door by the landlord Investa Nominees.
The notice stated Pressed Juices Retail had breached its lease and failed to pay rent.
Investa Nominess failed to respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Pressed Juices said: “we just found the rental too much for our business”.
“We are so disappointed for our staff and our customers, we all really enjoyed operating that site, but it was not economical for us and there was commercial activity around the store which was not disclosed to us which affected the viability,” the spokesperson said.
“We are happy with the number of stores we currently have and hope to consolidate the business at this size going forward.”
Workers owed wages and superannuation
Pressed Juice’s problems have left a trail of destruction with its staff among those worst affected.
The Young Workers Centre has been working with former employees of Pressed Juices for over a year after they experienced wage theft of thousands of dollars with unpaid leave and superannuation.
Oanh Tran, the principal solicitor at the Young Workers Centre, said none of the Pressed Juices workers who contacted the centre had ever received superannuation.
Ms Tran said Pressed Juices has “a business of complex corporate structures” which have resulted in an evasion of responsibilites and avoiding paying workers what they are owed.
“To date, no regulators have stepped in to stop the directors – Leo Pegoli, former director and bankrupt, continues to manage the companies, and Amanda Pegoli, current director – who continue to get away with wage theft.”
Oanh Tran is a lawyer at the Young Workers Centre.
Ms Tran called on the Australian Taxation Office to pursue Pressed Juices for failing to pay superannuation for several years, and ASIC to take action against the company for allegedly trading while insolvent.
“This company had no business trading, yet continues to get away with stealing workers’ wages,” she said. “This is unfair and we need to change the system. We want bosses like these jailed for intentionally and unapologetically stealing wages and superannuation from young workers.”
Complicated web of companies
Leo Pegoli started to run into trouble two years ago with Pressed Juices placed into administration in June 2016 after being squeezed by multimillion-dollar debts.
He established a complicated web of companies transferring Pressed Juices’ assets to a new company Pressed Juices Holdings which was wound up with Mr Pegoli made bankrupt.
Pressed Juices was already being operated through associated companies Pressed Juices Retail and Pressed Juices Production and Manufacturing which were both placed in liquidation recently.
Anna Agostino of liquidator Clifton Hall said the liquidator believes assets were transferred from this Pressed Juices Production and Manufacturing to related company Pressed Juices Works.
The sole director of Pressed Juices Works is Amanda Pegoli and Mr Pegoli is a former director.
Mr Pegoli failed to respond to requests for comment.