Journeys Kitchen and Bar owner Michael Milne.
Journeys Kitchen and Bar owner Michael Milne. Contributed

EXCLUSIVE: Ipswich company owes $500k to workers, taxman

HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars in unpaid superannuation is owed to several former staff from a once-popular Springfield cafe.

Michael Milne, the owner of Journeys Kitchen and Bar, cited "circumstances" when he revealed on Monday the cafe would close.

It can now be revealed mounting debt has left staff out of pocket.

Documents obtained by the QT reveal Mr Milne's company, Mine Concept Pty Ltd, has been put into external administration.

Worrells Solvency & Forensic Accountants partner Adam Ward said the company is estimated to owe about $220,000 in superannuation to former staff.

On top of that, $300,000 in liabilities to the Australian Tax Office is estimated to be owed.

The QT has spoken to several former cafe employees who say they have been left hundreds of dollars short.

All staff have spoken anonymously.

A former cafe employee believes he's lost about $8000 in superannuation, with no payments made in two years.

Efforts to recoup the cash were fruitless.

The former cafe employee claims Mr Milne failed to address employees' pay concerns.

Mr Milne said he had been working with the tax office for about two years to try to rectify the situation.

The owner knew superannuation had to be paid and said he thought everything was in order.

"There's never been any malicious intent into not paying it," Mr Milne said.

"We've had staff come to us, we've worked with the ATO and we're still currently working with the ATO.

"As a small business owner it's become too much, that's one of the reasons why we've ended up shutting the venue down."

Another employee said she had been fighting for more than two years to have her superannuation paid.

"We are now dismayed to see that this will not happen with the company going into administration," she said.

Mr Milne said staff would be the first in line to recoup any money owed but was unsure about the extent of the reimbursement.

"My number one goal is to make sure the staff are paid what's owed to them," he said.

When pressed on the extent of the error Mr Milne referred questions to the liquidator.

"I'm not trying to absolve myself from any responsibility," he said.

"I did make mistakes in relation to bookkeeping and I'm sorry about that."

"Once we found out I had made errors we got all the necessary people involved."

Mr Milne said a payment plan with the tax office was put in place.

Mr Ward said payments were up-to-date to the majority of the company's suppliers, but an electricity bill and rent remained outstanding.

The liquidator said the company had "significant tax liabilities" and had failed to comply with its financial reporting obligations.

He said a "lack of experience" in management might have contributed to its financial failures.

Mr Ward said it was too early to understand whether staff would receive their owed super.

"Assets of the company are limited to equipment," he said.

In his early assessment, Mr Ward said there were things "that didn't go the company's way".

He said predictions the GE Building would house 1100 workers within two years proved to be untrue, with only about 300 staff onsite.

"It is a tough game; the food and retail business," Mr Ward said.

"It's a much-loved cafe and it had good customers."

A spokeswoman for the Australian Tax Office declined to comment on the company's affairs due to privacy.

She said the office took seriously non-payment by employers of superannuation.

"We pursue the outstanding debt, including contacting the employer by phone or in writing to come to an agreement on how the debt will be paid," she said.

"The Director Penalty Regime may also cause company directors to incur a personal liability equal to their company's unpaid SGC (superannuation) liability.

"This enables the ATO to issue Director Penalty Notices to the directors, upon which we can seek to recover the unpaid superannuation liabilities by having recourse to the directors' personal assets."

Each year, the ATO receives about 30,000 reports from people who believe they have not had their superannuation paid by their employer.

Another Journeys cafe employee said efforts to secure important documents after her resignation were difficult.

"I was never paid that week's pay or any entitlements owed," she said

"I also never received a group certificate to do my tax the following year, resulting in $800 owed tax to the ATO for not declaring income."

Anyone chasing lost or unpaid super, or who thinks their employer isn't paying correctly, should contact the ATO.

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