Five cafes and restaurants in a popular Melbourne city laneway are accused of underpaying workers.

The hospitality union staged a protest on Monday after it found half the venues in Degraves Street are paying employees as little as $11 an hour.

Hospo Voice said the outlets have underpaid six workers by $50,000 and its findings have been given to the employment watchdog to investigate.

It accused cafe Degraves Espresso of underpaying worker Maggie Stecher-Keyland by an estimated $18,619 in wages and superannuation.

RMB Cafe is alleged to have deprived a staff member of $11,791, while a worker at Little Cupcakes is said to have lost out by $6900.

“There was zero respect, they made me feel so disposable,” Ms Stecher-Keyland said.

“You just get used to it, because the majority of venues in the street are doing the same thing.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed it will be conducting enquiries relating to businesses on Degraves Street but declined to comment further.

Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice, said staff members at venues on the street were working eight hours straight without a break or food.

“It’s hard to find a tourist brochure that doesn’t include a photo of Degraves Street,” she said.

“Yet little do the tourists who visit this famous laneway know that it’s a meat-grinder that tears through hospitality workers, preying on the youngest and most vulnerable workers.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has pledged to make wage theft a criminal offence if the Labor government is re-elected, so that employers who deliberately underpay could face jail.

“We have a clear plan to make wage theft a crime … and we’ll waste no time delivering that,” Mr Andrews said on day one of his election campaign.

Hospo Voice has launched a petition calling for venues in the laneway, which is just minutes from Flinders Street Station, to be investigated.

The venues have been contacted for comment.