“I take full responsibility": George Calombaris breaks down over wage theft scandal
Celebrity chef George Calombaris has spoken out for the first time since it was revealed that he underpaid his staff by $7.8 million.
The former MasterChef Australia judge sat down with 7.30’s Leigh Sales, saying he was “gutted” when he discovered that he had failed to properly compensate his staff who work across a number of his restaurants.
Since the scandal broke, his company MAdE has paid back the current and former employees, plus an added $200,000 “contrition payment” under a court-enforceable undertaking made with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“I won’t forget that afternoon in 2017 when we sat there with my new business partners after we’d done a full audit for the business and discovered the underpayments,” he told 7.30.
According to him, the inaccuracies in wages were an oversight and his employees “are everything to us”.
“I’m not here to blame anyone,” he said.
“I take full responsibility for this. I’m sorry.
“The thing about 13 years ago, you’re a young chef, 26 years of age, you want to open your first restaurant, you get together with three other partners at that point, and you open the first one, then the second one opens, the third one, the creativity is flying, the ideas are flying, the dreaming is there.
“But the sophistication in the back end wasn’t there.
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“There was no CEO, there was no people culture manager, there was no elite finance team like we’ve got now, that can make sure that mistake that we made will never happen again.”
And as he hopes to turn the entire situation around, Calombaris said he wants to be a “voice for change”.
“We’re multiple restaurants. There’s single restaurants out there, I understand it’s hard, they haven’t got the opportunity where they can have CEOs and infrastructure, but it doesn’t mean they can do this,” he said.
“They have to seek advice, they need to make sure they’re on top of … the food, the service, the great wine, the great dishes, that at the back it needs to be just as delicious.
“Right now there’s 642 team members that I absolutely adore. We aren’t closing our restaurants, we’re here. And it’s my job as their leader to keep pushing forward and keep speaking this message, not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it.”
Calamboris has had a rough few weeks, as he was dumped from not only a major Western Australia tourism campaign but also from his hit television show MasterChef, which saw all three judges – including Matt Preston and Gary Meghan – walk out over contract complications and a negotiation breakdown.