The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating Australia's biggest restaurant group over unpaid overtime claims

Neil Perry and Rockpool Dining Group CEO Thomas Pash
  • Rockpool Dining Group is facing claims that chefs are working excessive hours of unpaid overtime at restaurants involving two of its key brands.
  • Workplace Minister Craig Laundy and the Fair Work Ombudsman say they will follow up and investigate the claims.
  • The business denies it has acted inappropriately, with the group’s culinary director Neil Perry saying they care about their staff.

Australia’s workplace umpire will investigate the private equity-owned restaurant business Rockpool Dining Group over claims that staff are working additional unpaid overtime.

Fairfax Media published allegations from anonymous staff over the weekend alleging that staff at Sake and Munich Brauhaus restaurants in the group are working up to 20 hours of unpaid overtime a week, leaving them hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

Rockpool Dining Group Chief Executive Officer Thomas Pash denies the allegations, calling them “spurious, inaccurate and give an incomplete picture of our practices”.

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) told Business Insider the claims raised in the Fairfax story will be investigated.

“I can confirm that the Fair Work Ombudsman will conduct inquiries into this matter. It is not appropriate to comment further at this time,” he said.

“Any worker seeking advice or assistance can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman by visiting www.fairwork.gov.au or calling the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. An interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50.”

Federal workplace minister Craig Laundy told Sky News on Sunday he would also follow up with the FWO

In a statement to Business Insider the Minister said the Turnbull Government “has zero tolerance for exploitation of workers and underpayment of wages and entitlements”.

“Anyone who believes they are not being paid their full entitlements or know of someone in that situation, they should get in contact with the Fair Work Ombudsman,” he said.

Rockpool Dining Group (RDG) is attempting to build Australia’s first $1 billion hospitality business by 2021, with plans to float on the ASX. Leading chef Neil Perry is the company’s Chief Brand & Culinary Officer.

Perry sold his Rockpool businesses to the former Urban Purveyor Group, best known for its Sake Japanese restaurants and The Bavarian beer houses for a reported $65 million, in 2016. The RDG business is owned by Quadrant Private Equity.

The group has 16 restaurant brands in more than 60 venues across Australia, from the former Perry ventures Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Spice Temple and Burger Project, to Fratelli Fresh and The Cut steakhouse.

The company employs around 3,000 people, and says it will have up to $350 million in sales in FY18, resulting in a profit of up to $40 million.

The business says it’s growing at 20-30% a year and on track to have $1 billion in turnover by FY21.

In a statement Neil Perry said: “We care about our staff”.

“We offer a great training ground and we are proud of the work we do and proud of the fantastic teams we have working in our restaurants around the country,” he said.

“It’s a sad day when a few people try to undermine the amazing work of so many who contribute to making our restaurants great; especially when we operate fully within the employment laws of this country.”

On Saturday night, Perry closed his upmarket CBD Chinese, Jade Temple, after less than a year, because it failed to fire.

The high profile venue, previously his former flagship Rockpool restaurant, will become a function space. RDG also closed restaurants in Melbourne’s The Alfred building late last year, also turning the historic former site of Mietta’s into a function space.

RDG is seeking to open more than 100 The Bavarian restaurants across the country.

The Fairfax Media investigation into employment practices at the group said it obtained leaked documents that reveal permanent chefs “regularly earn less than $20 an hour and, some weeks, up to $800 per week less than they would under the award” and that chefs regularly work 10 to 20 hours of unpaid overtime, with some working up to 70 hours per week.

Fairfax says:

The documents also show that the restaurants keep two sets of figures: the hours actually worked, alongside the hours rostered and paid for.

Receipts are given to workers when they clock on and off using a thumb touch-pad. It shows the hours they are paid for – typically eight hours per day. Beneath that on the receipt, the actual hours the staff worked are recorded. This can be up to 14 hours in a day.

In extreme cases, skilled chefs at the Rockpool Dining Group’s restaurants are earning as little as $15 per hour some weeks, well below the minimum wage, while working up to 30 hours’ unpaid overtime.

The paper also claimed there was “significant pressure on vulnerable migrant workers”.

In response, Thomas Pash said the report is “based on questionable documents we were neither permitted to review nor validate”.

The CEO said permanent employees are paid in line with, and often above the industry award.

“We operate well within compliance requirements, including asking our permanent employees to scan in and scan out so we can monitor their hours,” he said.

“Our payroll and time and attendance systems register 38 hours per week as per our staff employment agreements. It also registers actual hours worked so we can reasonably monitor hours, manage rosters, assign days off in lieu and pay overtime, which is paid in line with annualised award rates.”

He said that if employees working “unreasonable” overtime, they work with them to reduce hours and reassign shifts “to manage better their time”.

Fairfax Media spoke to migrant chefs working for RDG who claimed the company was holding their residency status over them “like a new age of slavery”.

Pash said the business “actively assists those on working visas apply for permanent residency”.

“The Group has a 100% support rate for employees in good standing. Currently more than 45 employees are being supported in their application for permanent residency,” he said.

The allegations levelled at Rockpool Dining Group come after two other leading chefs faced underpayment claims.

Last year Melbourne restaurant group Made Establishment paid $2.6 million in backpay to 162 of its 430 staff after an external audit revealed they had been incorrectly paid.

The group, which includes MasterChef star and director George Calombaris, was first alerted to the problem by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in 2015.

In May, the Fair Work Ombudsman announced it was investigating several allegations of underpayment of staff at Shannon Bennett’s Vue Group.

The company says the underpayment claims were “absolutely incorrect”.

The Fairfax Media report which sparked the FWO investigation into Rockpool Dining Group is here.

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