Contributed by Joe Montero
Restaurateur and MasterChef celebrity George Calombaris is making headlines and they aren’t good ones. Everyone is talking about how he stole S7.8 million worth of wages from employees working at his chain of restaurants.
Masterchef’s George Calombaris fined for underpaying staff $7.8M
Video from Nine News Australia
This is a terrible thing to do and deserves condemnation by every decent person, and he is getting it far and wide.
The danger is, that an over concentration on the personality has the potential of hiding the fact that the practice is widespread across the hospitality industry. This is what needs to be cleaned up. Not just Calombaris.
As is always the case in these situations, the millions made at Calombaris’ restaurants was not the result of the efforts of one man. George Calombaris is the figurehead. It is the staff in the kitchen and out front serving the customers, who make everything possible. This is good reason why they would expect to be reasonably rewarded for their efforts.
They weren’t. So they got together, acted and exposed what has been going on. George Calombaris ended up before Fair Work Australia. The evidence was overwhelming. He had to be found guilty.
All is not good. Calombaris stole $7.8 million and he was fined a mere $200,000, and ended up walking out with most of the ill gotten gain in his pocket. A significant part of what he owed has not been paid, and it is not certain that it will be paid.
What message does this send out, other than employers can continue to steal wages, and even if they get caught and found guilty of a crime, the law will still make sure that it is worthwhile.
Calombaris may stand to lose more as an individual. His reputation has been seriously hammered, and this is likely to result in the loss of customers to his restaurants. He has lost a tourism contract with West Australia and the pressure is on MasterChef to axe him. This will cost him some more. Further court appearances are pending.
But this cannot hide the fact that the inadequacy of the fine has given some legitimacy to wage theft. It has been made more attractive to employers. This is a good example of how the existing law relating to rights at work is engineered against the wage earner.
For a prime minister who spruiks so much about rights and freedoms, Scott Morrison has been tellingly silent on this issue.
This suggests a lot about where his sympathies lie. After all, he and his government are looking at making further cuts to penalty rates and introducing legislation to further pull back rights at work across the board. George Calombaris happens to be one more warier in this ongoing class war against the wage earner.
If not for a rising militancy building through workers in the hospitality industry, fighting this and the penalty rates cut imposed by the federal government, the decline in wages and conditions in this industry would continue at an accelerated pace.
Unions have stepped in and are supporting this campaign to put an end to the practice of what Calombaris is guilty of.
A message from Michele O’Neill the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) regarding Calombaris and all the wage thieves
Video from Australian Unions