See what I did with the title there? You see? Get it…? I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet myself, however, I’m 100% certain it is by no means original. But, it is true. George Calombaris is under repeated fire for the scandal that has rocked his businesses for a few years now, having admitted this week “to underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees…” His punishment? Not a lot.
It is scandals like this, not just in the hospitality industry but anywhere, that highlight the absolute necessity of the Union movement. Workers being underpaid and/or ripped off by their employers is a story we hear repeated too often. ‘X’ franchise has been caught out telling staff they can’t take water or bathroom breaks, ‘Y’ store has underpaid staff whatever obscene amount. ‘Z’ business has dodgy practices to skip paying towards worker entitlements.
For underpaying staff almost $8M in wages, Calombaris has been given a $200,000 fine and must also “do speaking engagements to educate the restaurant industry on the importance of complying with workplace laws”. Many have said that the fine is a laughably small sum, but while I agree with that sentiment, I am more shocked about his sudden change of heart regarding the laws he so blatantly broke previously.
“We are committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example when it comes to building and promoting supportive, healthy and compliant hospitality workplaces.”
So the man who has been caught out ripping his workers off, been publicly against penalty rates for years, at one point tried to blame outdated processes… this man will lead the hospitality industry towards a brighter future for workers? Call me cynical, but that all sounds like a wonderful PR move – screw over your workers, get a tsk tsk from the law, and try to come out of it looking like a shining beacon of new hopes. Forgive me if I don’t believe this act is sincere.
Regardless of whatever fine he is hit with, no, Calombaris should have no role in promoting adherence to the law, he should be at the mercy of the workers he has wronged for so many years. Don’t let him off the hook so easily, he should be used as an example of what happens if you do break the law. But instead he’s being rolled out as the poster boy for enforcing them – something, thankfully, many people see straight through.
Occasionally Master Chef is on in my house and I am honestly surprised Calombaris is still there – although 10 have said they are happy with how things have panned out and will keep him on the show. There was an episode last week that had the contestants cook on the final night of his now closed restaurant The Press Club for the staff there. In it, he said something along the lines of “these people mean a lot to me, don’t let me down”. Everyone in the room had the same thought: oh do they, George?
What better way to farewell the staff you might’ve been underpaying this whole time than to feed them with free labour? (I know, obviously, that reality TV show contestants don’t get paid, but it still makes the whole affair rather funny given the behind the scenes tumult.)
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