By Nicholas Hartman
One of Australia’s largest upmarket restaurant groups is facing its first high-profile legal claims of underpayment.
The Sunday Age reports that a chef is claiming that the restaurant group underpaid him over a six-year span. The press release by his lawyers claim he was requested to work up to 70 hours a week, but only paid for a regular 38-hour week – meaning that his average per hour pay was pushed down to $12 per hour.
The chef, originally from Nepal and on a temporary visa, also claims that he suffered “years of mistreatment”, according to the Sunday Age, also working “up to 20 hours and finish at 1am and due to start a new shift just three hours later”.
“I slept several nights at Rockpool on a pastry bench because there was no way I could go home and come back in time,” the chef told The Sunday Age.
“I went into depression but I couldn’t even figure out if it was a depression. I just wanted to get out but I didn’t have any choice because of the 457 visa.
“That chunk of my life I used to just lie down on my weekend and do nothing. There were days I just felt like crying.”
According to the report, the restaurant group agreed to pay back staff $1.6 million last October for a single year of underpayment. Since then, it has also begun to pay back staff going back more years.
The total cost of underpayments hasn’t been disclosed but is reported be up to $10 million.
The group is also reported to have previously settled individual claims quietly – another migrant chef “received nearly $30,000 after working more than 1500 hours of unpaid overtime over two-and-a-half years,” the article reports.
News of this claim comes after George Calombaris’ MADE establishment’s court-enforceable undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Commission was revealed late last week.
MADE establishment was ordered to pay a $200,000 contrition payment after self-reporting they had underpaid staff $7.8 million over a six-year period.
When contacted by The Age, the restaurant group declined to comment as the matter was still before the courts, but they did say they were cooperating with the Fair Work Ombudsman and their investigation into their business.
“We continue to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman and past and present employees regarding any amounts that may be owing,” the business said.