Pastry wizard Adriano Zumbo is the latest chef with problems involving staff underpayments

Adriano Zumbo. Source: Facebook

TV star and cake maker Adriano Zumbo is the latest high profile chef to be caught out underpaying staff.

Zumbo has 10 outlets in Sydney and Melbourne and more than 200 staff. He rose to fame for challenging desserts, such as a croquembouche tower, on Masterchef, and last year hosted his own TV show Zumbo’s Just Desserts.

But like fellow Masterchef star George Calombaris, whose Melbourne restaurant group Made Establishment paid $2.6 million in backpay to 162 of its 430 staff last month, two years after the Fair Work Ombudsman alerted the company to problems, Zumbo has had to reimburse staff after they went public with payroll problems on A Current Affair on rival network Nine.

In a segment aired this week, five current and former staff claim they were given fake superannuation numbers, were paid at incorrect rates, and that overtime pay was missing. They claimed they were owed thousands of dollars.

One staff member said that when he complained repeatedly via email, the response was: “We’ll pay, we’ll pay.”

Zumbo issued a statement in response blaming a new overtime system implemented in January this year.

“As a result, a number of discrepancies were identified in the calculation, approval and payment of overtime to a limited number of staff,” he said.

It’s believed around 10 staff were affected.

“I have personally taken steps to rectify all back pay issues of which I am currently aware,” Zumbo said, adding that all all outstanding superannuation and overtime was being paid this week.

He said an audit of the payroll system is now under way.

“I instigated that audit having learnt about the discrepancies referred to above, in order to identify whether there have been any other issues in the payment of my staff, whose hard work I value enormously. In the event that audit identifies any other discrepancies in payments to staff, those matters will be remedied as soon as possible,” he said.

Zumbo claimed the issues had not been raised with him or the HR department before appearing on A Current Affair.

“Had we been aware of these concerns, our HR team and I would have been available to assist those staff members in the satisfactory resolution of their concerns,” he said.

The hospitality industry has been subject to a range on underpayment scandals in recent years, including high profile names such as Melbourne hospitality legend Ronnie Di Stasio, owner of St Kilda’s Cafe Di Stasio, and the Malaysian restaurant chain Mamak, as well as fast food chains Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recently launched legal action against a Sydney café operator and another on the Gold Coast for allegedly forcing overseas workers to repay thousands in wages. A Brisbane Coffee Club franchisee is also facing court for allegedly requiring an overseas worker to repay $18,000 of his wages by threatening to cancel his 457 skilled worker visa if he refused.

In February, an Albury café owner and his business were penalised $532,000 after threatening two Indian workers with violence and deportation to coerce them into paying back more than $60,000 in wages.

The Melbourne ‘hawker-style’ restaurant Kitchen Republik, in Box Hill, was penalised $100,000 after it “grossly exploited” a visa holder from Taiwan through underpayments worth more than $30,000 in less than nine months.

The FWO this week launched surprise visits to 80 venues in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley dining precinct in a compliance blitz.

Ombudsman Natalie James says inspectors are keen to assess whether the low prices charged around the area were due to efficiencies in business practices, rather than the underpayment of entitlements.

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