Salary theft, a staple of the restaurant menu


The collapse of George Calombaris’ restaurant empire was sparked by a $ 7 million salary underpayment scandal. Other famous chefs were also caught off guard. The bitter truth of Australia’s hospitality industry is that employee exploitation is not the exception but the norm, say Richard robinson and Matthieu brenner.

The latest celebrity chef salary theft scandal, with upscale Melbourne restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal allegedly underpaid staff in AU $ 4 million, is the tip of the iceberg of wage exploitation in the hospitality industry.

Blumenthal joins a line of celebrity bosses linked to cases of million dollar salary theft.

There is the former Masterchef judge of the company George Calombaris who underpays the staff in $ 7.8 million.

There is Shannon Bennett’s World View Restaurant accused of forcing staff to work up to 30 unpaid overtime hours each week.

There’s Neil Perry’s Rockpool catering group, accused of “daring” falsification of timesheets amounting to up to $ 10 million in unpaid overtime.

Although Rockpool’s claim has yet to be adjudicated in Australian court Fair labor mediator, he accepted in October 2018 to salary arrears staff $ 1.6 million.

Pear told Fairfax Media Rockpool had made “some changes” to better comply with the law. “It’s always difficult in restaurants,” he said, “but I think we would be one of the few, if any, to comply with it right now.”

Our research, in partnership with William Angliss Institute, suggests he’s right about it. Since mid-2018, we have interviewed 180 cooking students, apprentice chefs and senior chefs as part of an ongoing study on mental health and well-being in the hospitality industry.

What they told us confirms that the exploitation of workers is institutionalized. It takes three forms in particular: unpaid overtime; failing to pay the correct penalty rates; and get those looking for a job to do free work trials.

Our provisional findings confirm those of the 2018 Senate inquiry into circumvention by companies of the fair labor law. The final survey report cited Victorian estimates that 79% of hospitality employers did not comply with the national system of compensation for awards.

What we found was not just that salary theft is rife. What’s remarkable is that it looks less like a burglary and more like a robbery in daylight.

Most employees know they are paid less than what they are entitled to, but accept it as “the norm”.

Unpaid overtime

Heston’s dinner, which went into liquidation in December, reportedly underpaid staff by at least A $ 4 million over four years, according to the administrator’s report. leak in the New Daily. The restaurant is named after Blumenthal although he is not the owner.

Former Dinner by Heston chef William Trist told the New Daily he never worked less than 60 hours a week, and sometimes more than 80 hours.

Our findings are consistent with this and the other celebrity-related cases mentioned above. Unpaid overtime is the most common form of wage theft. Many chefs and apprentices told us they work more than 20 hours of unpaid work per week during peak periods.

Expectations of unpaid overtime have been described to us as an integral part of the hospitality business model.

This was not a case of inadvertent compliance due to a complicated attribution system (as suggested by MasterChef Australia Judge Matt Moran).

It was clear to the bosses and the workers. An apprentice told us that his employer justified it in the following terms: “We don’t have the budget for this. So we have to wait until we have the budget and pay you.

Penalty rates and fees

According to our research, the second most common form of salary theft is not paying a penalty. The majority of those interviewed worked Sundays or worked overtime or on breaks in exchange for the promise of time off, or accepted as compensation meals that could have been thrown out anyway.

Our interviews also suggest that the underpayment of entitlements such as pension contributions is common. Young workers, in particular, were often unaware that their retirement pensions were not being paid properly until it was too late.

A contributing factor is the money culture in the hospitality industry. As one apprentice told us, “On my first job I asked them if I could be on the books and they said yes, but I didn’t receive any payslips. When I left that job, I asked my old manager if I had a superannuation account or something, and he said no.

Unpaid work trials

Trials of unpaid work also appear to be common. Two young chefs told us that they were tricked by the same Sydney restaurant into asking them to work at least three days for free. Neither has been offered a job. “Talking to my classmates,” said one cooking student, “it’s common to do free trials”.

A cultural tradition helping homeowners pull this off is the “chef’s sabbatical”, When ambitious chefs put on“ scenes ”, working for free in renowned restaurants to learn from esteemed chefs. A “internCan volunteer for up to six months to hone their craft and improve their career prospects.

“I did a lot of steps,” one chef told us. She traveled for months in the United States and Great Britain, working for free in the best restaurants. She admitted that building a career was standard practice in the industry.

Toxic culture

When our research is completed, we hope to be able to better quantify the extent to which industry practices contribute to the poor mental health of hospitality workers.

Our preliminary qualitative results suggest that the effect is significant. Those we spoke to spoke about the stress of putting up with or dealing with the theft of wages.

“It was like mental torture for me,” said one apprentice cook, “work until four, get paid until one.”

Another apprentice told us how his boss “went crazy,” throwing a glass jar at the wall when he asked him about his rights. “I had a massive anxiety attack.”

This toxic culture contributes to workers leaving the industry.

This is a problem for a sector facing a shortage of 59,500 chefs by 2023 exacerbated by the increase in internship completion rates.

Richard Robinson, Researcher / Hospitality Management, The University of Queensland and Matthew Brenner, Lecturer and Research Assistant, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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