MasterChef Australia judge, George Calombaris, admits to underpaying $7.8m in wages

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th July 2019

Celebrity chef George Calombaris, who appears on MasterChef Australia, has been fined by the Fair Work Ombudsman after admitting to underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees of his hospitality empire. 

According to an article in The Age, 'the chef has been ordered to make a $200,000 "contrition payment" and must also make a series of public statements to promote compliance with the Fair Work Act, according to an enforceable undertaking announced on Thursday morning'.

george 2
credit: @gcalombaris

George Dimitrios Calombaris is an Australian chef and restaurateur of Greek heritage.

He is one of the judges of the Network Ten series MasterChef Australia. Prior to his role on MasterChef Australia, he appeared regularly on the daytime Network Ten cooking show Ready Steady Cook.

He owns several restaurants in Melbourne. His flagship restaurant, The Press Club, was awarded The Age Good Food Guide "Best New Restaurant 2008" with George named "Chef of the Year 2008".

He draws on his Greek, Cypriot and Italian heritage for inspiration.

It comes after a four year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman which found a number of issues including 'a failure to pay minimum award rates, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime rates, split-shift allowances and annual leave loadings'.

Initial estimates in 2017 were significantly less than have come to light, at the time George and his company  Made Establishment announced that 162 workers had been underpaid $2.6 million because of "historically poor processes".

The chef issued a statement on Thursday morning saying: "We apologise to all our affected team members, past and present – as it is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles."

Unions have called for him to be sacked as a MasterChef judge and United Voice union  national secretary, Jo-anne Schofield, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “We are truly shocked at the full extent of wage theft at Made Establishment.

“For the seriousness of this crime, a $200,000 fine is not sufficient.

“If someone deliberately took $1,000 out of someone else’s bank account, there would be a high likelihood of a criminal conviction for theft. But when you’re a multimillionaire restaurateur / celebrity chef you can take $7.83m in wages from your workers and get away with a ‘contrition payment’.

“And you get to keep your TV show, your huge profile and mansion and keep raking in cash off the back of hardworking chefs, waitstaff and bartenders.

“All the while you’ve also been campaigning to slash the penalty rates for all hospitality workers."

The agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman will require him to implement new payroll and compliance systems across all of his sites and each venue must also be independently audited for the next three years.

In these challenging times…

…the hospitality landscape has dramatically changed in the last two months, and with that our advertising revenues have all but expired, significantly impacting our business. Despite having to furlough a large portion of our staff, we are still delivering the valuable content and honest information, which hundreds of thousands of you come to The Staff Canteen for. We believe we have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs, are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector.

Your financial support means we remain independent and open to all. We were launched by a chef and remain the voice of chefs and other hospitality professionals.

We need your support to keep delivering the products and content that you love, giving you the platform to share opinions and inspiration. Every contribution whether big or small, means so much.
Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th July 2019

MasterChef Australia judge, George Calombaris, admits to underpaying $7.8m in wages