Rockpool restaurant group underpaying workers

Jul 9th, 2018

High-profile Rockpool restaurant empire, the brainchild of celebrity chef Neil Perry, is substantially underpaying primary staff, who work up to 70 hours per week. Neil Perry sold his Rockpool Group to Quadrant private equity-backed Urban Purveyor Group in 2016 and is now the group’s chief brand and culinary director as well as being a significant shareholder. Rockpool Dining Group deflect criticism by saying that their employees are paid in line with the industry award and are on annualised salaries. Chefs generally work long and unsociable hours, but it is a breach of workplace law to be expected to work unpaid overtime if it drives wages below the minimum rate of the award.

Some chefs working for the group are earning as little as half of what they should expect to earn, after working an extra 15 or 20 hours of unpaid overtime. The excessive hours have lead to fatigue and workplace injuries with some workers being taken to hospital for exhaustion and badly cut fingers.

Many of the workers at Rockpool Dining Group are migrants making them vulnerable to exploitation. If they speak up or complain, they will lose their job and be forced to leave the country. University of Adelaide associate professor Joanna Howe said there were "endemic" problems with the design of Australia’s temporary migrant worker programs. “It gives employers all the leverage,” she said. “It gives workers very few options but to acquiesce to these types of demands.”

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said the Fair Work Act was unclear about how many hours of overtime was “reasonable”. But that did not mean workers should not be paid for that overtime. “Just because you can be asked to work reasonable overtime doesn’t mean that you don’t get paid for those extra hours,” he said. Professor Stewart said audits by the Fair Work Ombudsman of employers pointed to a culture of “entrenched non-compliance” when it came to paying legal rates of pay.

Last year it was reported that the hospitality empire of celebrity Melbourne chef George Calombaris had  underpaid 160 staff more than $2.6 million. This has lead to the Andrews government announcing recently that, if re-elected, it will introduce laws to make wage “theft” a criminal offence, with a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. Read full article

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