By Leigh Johnston
A former MasterChef winner has turned up the heat on the hospitality sector, claiming that systemic underpayment of staff should attract prison sentences for employers.
Speaking on the ABC’s Q&A program this week, series two winner Adam Liaw used strong terms to describe wage theft and said the prospect of jail time should be used as a deterrent.
“Prison for doing large-scale systemic wage theft is certainly something that should be on the table,” he told Q&A Host Fran Kelly.
“I have worked in an awful lot of restaurants. I have flipped burgers, washed dishes and cleaned toilets and in the vast majority of those jobs I was not paid an award wage.
“Generally the larger the organisation, the organisations that could afford to have payroll people to keep an eye on whether everyone was being paid accordingly, were the ones that paid better.
“Mum and Dad restaurants that couldn’t keep across the complexities of the award wage system were the ones that were paying below the award wage.
“In my case that was $10 an hour and $5 an hour in some cases. But none of that is an excuse for not paying your employees properly.
“The deterrence in terms of increasing penalties and putting people in prison for doing large-scale systemic wage theft is certainly something that should be on the table.”
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— ABC Q&A (@QandA) July 29, 2019
His call comes after prominent restauranteur George Calombaris was slapped with a $7.8m wage bill for widescale underpayment of staff at his MAdE Establishment.
Employsure’s Senior Employment Relations Adviser Michael Wilkinson said small business owners need greater support to understand Australia’s complex workplace relations system.
“Most employers want to do the right thing. Most problems arise because of misunderstandings about the application of the law, rather than a blatant disregard for it,” he said. “Thirty percent of calls from our clients in this sector relate to basic employee entitlements, so it’s clearly an area where they struggle.
“We have had significant consultations with small businesses and the overwhelming view is the legislation is far too complicated for the majority of Australian businesses with less than 20 employees and no expert HR or legal departments.”
“The ‘avalanche of pay rate changes’ is an example of why some employers can get caught out, struggling to follow the complex laws and frequent changes.”