George Calombaris, 40, has admitted to underpaying 515 employees, both current and former, a total of $7.83 million in wages, but says he has paid all outstanding dues and will also pay a $200,000 fine as a “contrition payment” and is required to make public statements to promote compliance with the Fair Work Act.
As part of the agreement with Fair Work, Calombaris will also need to implement new payroll and compliance systems across his restaurant empire, and each of the venues will be independently audited for three years. Meanwhile all Made Establishment staff working in human resources, payroll and on-site management will be required to undertake workplace relations training. He also formally apologised to former and current staff, as well as to the Ten Network broadcasters of MasterChef.
For union representatives, however, this is not enough. “While anyone else would face prison time for theft of millions of dollars, employers routinely steal huge amounts from working people and get away with simply returning the money they have stolen and paying a paltry fine,” ACTU President Michele O’Neil said.
Despite union demands that he be dumped from MasterChef, Network 10 declared support for the celebrity chef. “George and MAdE Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter,’’ a Network 10 spokeswoman said. “George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment.”
But Orlaith Belfrage, a former waiter at the Calombaris-owned Hellenic Republic and official at trade union Hospo Voice, says the company he founded, Made Establishment, still owes him $2,000. A petition has been started by Belfrage and Hospo Voice to have Calombaris removed from MasterChef as a result of the scandal. The petition had attracted nearly 10,000 signatures at the time of writing.
The petition states:
I worked as a waiter at Hellenic Republic for over 2 years until 2014 and I’m still owed $2000.
I’ve been fighting to get back pay from my time working for Hellenic Republic for over 2 years. I sent emails, made phone calls and sought legal advice. Still Made Establishment, George Calombaris’ company, refused to pay me for all of my work.
George should pay a serious price for this massive theft of workers’ wages.
How is it fair for him to steal over $7 million from workers is only fined only $200,000?
A three percent fine is not enough. Wage theft is a business model and George Calombaris has built his career on it. And he continues to be heralded as the “nice guy” celebrity chef and a MasterChef judge.
He should be taken off MasterChef. Channel Ten should stop making excuses for this serial wage thief.
Pretty much everyone who has ever worked for him has been underpaid, but because the case has gone on so long, many former staff won’t ever get to recover their money. It’s likely to be way more than 515 workers who have been underpaid.
How many workers can no longer reclaim their money because they are outside the six year statute of limitations?
It’s also untrue that he has been cooperating. Workers have requested repeatedly that Calombaris hand over records so that they can recover their stolen wages and he has not provided them with the documents they need to get their money.
Meanwhile, George Calombaris enjoys celebrity status and is put on a pedestal as an industry leader, a reputation he has built on stealing wages from his staff.
Why is this important?
George Calombaris is held up as an industry leader, yet he is not the leader the hospitality industry wants or needs. Aside from stealing millions of dollars from hospo workers, he’s been charged with assault. He’s been given enough chances, now it’s time for him to go.
Wage theft is rife throughout the hospitality industry. Celebrity chefs like George Calombaris have gotten rich by stealing from their hard-working employees.
This issue has stayed in focus for one reason and one reason alone. Because of the relentless agitation and campaigning by Hospo Voice members about wage theft by George and countless other hospitality employers.
The hospitality industry is changing, workers will no longer put up with excuses, we want real action on wage theft. How can we expect the industry to improve if we continue to honour celebrity wage thieves.
Ten network; it’s George’s turn to face elimination.