High-profile hospitality group Merivale has denied reports that it “whinged” about having to pay staff award rates, after its EBA — which allegedly allowed it to pay workers substantially less — was terminated by the Fair Work Commission.
Two employees of the Sydney group sought to have the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) terminated, which had continued to operate well past its nominal expiration date of 21 December 2012.
The EBA covered the group’s roughly 3,000 employees. The Fair Work Commission noted that only one opposed its abolition.
In taking into consideration the public interest, the views of the employer, workers and United Voice as the relevant employee union, as well as the likely implications of its removal, the Fair Work Commission agreed that the EBA be terminated, to take effect from 4 March 2019.
While the termination date was ultimately agreed between the parties, News Corp has since suggested that the Merivale Group, a billion-dollar empire, “isn’t happy about having to pay its young staff the wages they’re entitled to”.
The media report claimed that Merivale’s EBA allowed it to pay casual workers well below the award rates used by many of its smaller competitors — as little as $24.20 at any time other than on public holidays, where wages increased slightly to $25.50.
Under the current Hospitality Industry (General) Award, minimum hourly rates are $25.28 for ordinary weekday hours, rising to $30.33 on Saturdays, $35.39 on Sundays and $50.55 on all hours worked on public holidays.
News Corp accused the company of having “a bizarre whinge” and being “cranky” about having to pay its staff market rates, and quoted its HR manager in a submission to the Fair Work Commission as stating that some of its operations “may not be viable under the modern award”.
A spokesperson for Merivale hit back at the News Corp claims, telling My Business: “We have no idea where ‘bizarre whinge’ or ‘cranky’ came from, I can assure you that we are neither!”
In a statement, the company said that it “is committed to continuing to be a lead employer in our sector” and will transition over to the relevant industry award.
“Our staff are at the heart of our DNA and we keep them front of mind in everything we do. We know our great staff are a key to our success and they will ensure Merivale continues to thrive,” the statement said.
“Based on a sensible agreement with United Voice and yesterday confirmed by the Fair Work Commission, Merivale’s current Collective Agreement, which sets out the terms and conditions of employment for many of our staff, will reach its end date on 4 March 2019. From this date, our staff will transition to the relevant awards.
“Given the differences between the operation of the two systems, and the functional adaptations required by this transition, there will be a number of administrative and operational changes for Merivale and its staff.”
It added: “Merivale will continue to deliver exceptional product and service across all of its venues and will remain a workplace of choice for our staff.”
Merivale subsequently added that it believed the pay rates quoted by News Corp were not accurate.
“The rates payable to casuals under Merivale’s ECA vary according to classification. We can, however, confirm that the rates quoted by News Corp appear to be incorrect,” it said.
“Merivale is confident all staff have been paid in full and it has been compliant with all relevant legal standards and the applicable industrial instruments.”
My Business has also reached out to the Australian Hotels Association to comment on the implications that such an agreement, if true, may have had for the wider industry, by potentially giving Merivale a significant cost advantage over smaller venues.
Merivale Group is operated by the Hemmes family, and fronted by well-known pub baron Justin Hemmes.
According to its website, the group operates 59 bars, hotels and restaurants across Sydney, including Establishment and ivy in the CBD, The Newport on the Northern Beaches and the Coogee Pavillion in the city’s eastern suburbs.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.