money & Banking

Basmah Qazi

MasterChef judge in hot water: George Calombaris' underpaid staff scandal blows out to $8 million

MasterChef judge in hot water: George Calombaris' underpaid staff scandal blows out to $8 million

Celebrity chef George Calombaris has been issued a hefty fine after admitting to underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees of his restaurant business.

The MasterChef Australia judge has been told to make a $200,000 “contrition payment” alongside a number of public statements to help emphasise the Fair Work Act, according to an enforceable undertaking announced on Thursday morning.

The scandal has turned out to be bigger than anyone could have imagined, as back in April 2017, Calombaris’ company Made Establishment said that 162 workers had been underpaid $2.6 million because of “historically poor processes”.

But after a thorough four-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman, multiple breaches, including failure to pay minimum wage, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime rates, split-shift allowances and annual leave loadings were uncovered.

The company also had no record of the number of hours staff were asked to work on annualised salaries, some of which were denied accrued overtime and penalty rates.

The entire scandal has now put the hospitality industry under a microscope, with many high profile chefs and restaurateurs currently under investigation.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald confirmed that the Fair Work Ombudsmen is looking into restaurants owned by Neil Perry, Guillaume Brahimi, Teage Ezard and Heston Blumenthal.

Staff members who worked under George originally lodged complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2015, but at the time Calombaris and his business partner George Sykiotis assured them that the matter had been dealt with.

It was only when former chief executive of Swisse vitamins, Radek Sali, took a share in the business in 2016 that discrepancies began to unravel.

Made Establishment then made the decision to self-report to the Fair Work Ombudsmen in 2017, before publicly admitting to their mistake.

At the time, Mr Sali said he was “prepared for a few potholes in the books” when he first chose to invest but didn’t realise that hundreds of staff members had been affected. 

Calombaris said he was devastated.