Masterchef judge George Calombaris fined a measly $200,000 for ripping off employees $7.8 million – as he's compared to a 'bank robber'

MasterChef star and Victory supporter George Calombaris. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
  • Melbourne hospitality company Made Establishment, founded by TV chef George Calombaris, has back-paid workers $7.8 million in unpaid wages and super, the Fair Work Ombudsman has revealed.
  • Calombaris will pay a $200,000 “contrition payment” to the government coffers and give public speeches educating the restaurant industry on the “importance of workplace compliance”.
  • Former union boss Tim Lyons has slammed the soft punishment, comparing the incident to a bank robbery and saying “wage theft needs to be criminalised”.

George Calombaris, a judge on the long-running family-friendly Network Ten reality TV hit Masterchef, has sent a powerful and dangerous message to the kids:

If you rip off your hard-working staff to the tune of $7.8 million, you only have to pay a $200,000 fine. Oh, and give a few public speeches.

That’s the overwhelming conclusion of a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation into Calombaris and the restaurant company he founded and was a director of from 2008 to 2018, Made Establishment, which runs high profile and highly delicious Melbourne restaurants Gazi, The Press Club and Hellenic Republic.

The Ombudsman has announced Made establishment has now back-paid a total of $7.8 million in unpaid wages and super to employees. Related company Jimmy Grants has also paid $16,371 owed to workers.

By way of punishment, a court-enforceable agreement will see Calombaris pay a $200,000 sorry payment to the government’s Consolidated Revenue Consolidation and appoint external auditors to check pay and conditions at the company every year until 2022.

The celebrity chef has also agreed to undertake “speaking engagements to educate the restaurant industry on the importance of workplace compliance”. That’ll learn him.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker, however, seems to think it will teach him a lesson. And others too.

“The Court-Enforceable Undertaking commits Made Establishment to stringent measures to ensure that current and future employees across their restaurant group are paid correctly,” Parker said in a statement announcing Made’s self-disclosure.

“Made’s massive back-payment bill should serve as a warning to all employers that if they don’t get workplace compliance right from the beginning, they can spend years cleaning up the mess.”

Taking to Twitter, Tim Lyons, a former official with the Australian Council of Trade Unions — who now works for left-leaning think-tank Per Capita — compared the Made case to a bank robbery.

“Try robbing a bank of $8 million,” Lyons wrote. “Say you get caught. See if you get away with paying it back and giving an enforceable undertaking (a promise not to do it again). No criminal record. No gaol. Wage theft needs to be a criminalised.”

The employee rip-off is not the only scandal Calombaris has faced in recent years. The TV chef was convicted of punching a 19-year-old man in the stands of the A-league grand final in 2017 — a charge which was subsequently overturned on appeal in January 2018.

A spokesperson for Network Ten — which has continued to employ Calombaris throughout the scandals — said it stands by the controversial chef.

“George and Made Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter,” the spokesperson said. “George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment.”

Business Insider Australia has sought response from Made Establishment.

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