‘George Calombaris still owes me $2000’
A former employee at George Calombaris' Hellenic Republic restaurant claims she is still owed at least $2000 by the celebrity chef and that "there's more to come" from the underpayment saga.
Orlaith Belfrage, an organiser with the Hospo Voice union, says she's not satisfied that the MasterChef judge was "only fined $200,000" after admitting to underpaying hundreds of staff at his Melbourne restaurant empire nearly $8 million.
The Fair Work Ombudsman's four-year investigation culminated in the announcement on Thursday that Calombaris had back-paid more than $7.83 million to 524 current and former employees of Press Club, Gazi, Hellenic Republic and Jimmy Grants.
Under the court-enforceable undertaking, Calombaris must also effectively become an ambassador for the Fair Work Ombudsman with a series of "speaking engagements to educate the restaurant industry on the importance of workplace compliance".
Ms Belfrage, along with other union groups and outraged social media users, have called for Calombaris' to be axed from his long-running gig as host of the popular cooking show, but the broadcaster says he "has the support of Network Ten".
"I worked at Hellenic Republic Brunswick for two years and was misclassified as a casual and not paid my overtime as a full-time worker," Ms Belfrage told The Project on Thursday night. "I'm probably owed anywhere between $3000 and $4000. For my overtime it was just explained that that is just how it is and I can suck it up and work the job or leave."
Ms Belfrage said the issue was "systemic across the entire industry" and that she didn't believe the $7.83 million back-payment was the end of the story for Calombaris.
"I completely believe there's more to come," she said.
"I personally have money owing to me and there's a group of people I used to work with that I'm in contact with still that haven't been contacted by this second or third wave of media around the Made Establishment wage saga, so I completely believe that there's more back payments to be made."
Ms Belfrage said Calombaris should "absolutely" be dropped by Network Ten.
"There are so many business owners and chefs that do the right thing with paying their workers and have good principles, they should be rewarded by being able to be on those shows," she said.
"It shouldn't be given to people that are just so against the good principles and the law within the hospitality industry. There's just something that's hard to stomach about a multi-millionaire taking millions of dollars off his workers and just reaping huge profits and benefits from it."
Ms Belfrage's petition calling for Calombaris to be sacked from MasterChef had attracted more than 10,000 signatures as of Friday morning. Two online polls conducted by news.com.au attracted nearly 30,000 combined votes, with more than 75 per cent saying Calombaris should be dropped from the show.
In her petition, she challenges the claim that Calombaris has been co-operating with the investigation. "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," she wrote.
Made Establishment has been contacted for comment on Ms Belfrage's claims. A Fair Work Ombudsman spokeswoman said, "We urge workers to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for assistance."
It comes after Calombaris told the Herald Sun that all workers past and present had been "back-paid in full and the vast majority repaid before October 2017 in consultation with Fair Work".
"Made Establishment funded the back-payments with contributions from me and from other directors," he said. "When we discovered there were incorrect payments to members of the team, we self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman and co-operated with their investigation."
Asked how it happened, Calombaris said he started as a small business and "did not have the necessary systems and processes in place, particularly as the business grew". "There is no excuse for this and we have the systems in place now," he said.
"We have committed to three years of audits to double-check our classifications, and we're providing our team with training programs to make sure we have the right skills to classify staff correctly."
He insisted Made Establishment "now has the systems, processes and culture to be a force for change in this industry". "My priority was to pay everyone back which we have done," he said.
"I am deeply sorry for what has happened and have apologised to our affected team members, past and present. But I believe actions speak louder than words, which is why we self-reported to Fair Work, we fully co-operated with the investigation, we paid everyone back, and we're now continually improving the processes and procedures necessary to ensure we are best practice in the industry."
Calombaris said he "never" considered shutting down his restaurants. "My focus has been on my team, on co-operating fully with the Fair Work Ombudsman and ensuring all team members who were owed entitlements were back-paid in full," he said. "We've now done that, we've improved our processes, and we're committed to being a force for change."
Ms Belfrage has been contacted for comment.