Rockpool Dining Group, founded and part-owned by renowned chef Neil Perry, has been forced to “strenuously refute” allegations of chronic wage underpayment, as the Ombudsman begins a formal investigation into the business.
Fairfax Media suggested that Rockpool is “significantly underpaying key staff as they work up to 70 hours a week in harsh conditions”.
Rockpool, which owns the Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Bar Patron and Burger Project brands among others, was accused of paying chefs, including migrant chefs, for a standard 38-hour week, but expecting them to work up to 20 hours’ per week in unpaid overtime.
The Sake and Munich Brauhaus brands were singled out as being behind the breaches, with Fairfax citing “company emails” as proof of its allegations.
In a statement on Rockpool’s website, the group’s CEO Thomas Pash and Mr Perry denied all of the allegations raised, with Mr Pash labelling them “spurious, inaccurate and give an incomplete picture of our practices”.
“We strenuously refute allegations about Rockpool Dining Group’s payment practices. Current media reports are based on questionable documents we were neither permitted to review nor validate,” said Mr Pash.
“The fact is we operate well within compliance requirements, including asking our permanent employees to scan in and scan out so we can monitor their hours.
“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 annualized [sic] award rates.”
Mr Pash added: “Our permanent employees are remunerated in line with, and in many cases well-above, the industry award. They receive annualised salaries, and our practices clearly outline employee compensation for overtime, including time off in lieu.
“Where an employee is working unreasonable overtime we will work with that person to pull back their hours and reassign them shifts to manage better their time in line with their role.
“We also have mechanisms in place to review and reconcile annual pay.”
Meanwhile, Mr Perry said that the company “cares about” its staff and the opportunities it provides people to learn and grow.
“Rockpool Dining Group offers many Australians as well as employees on working visas fantastic opportunities to learn and grow their skills in the restaurant sector,” the chef said.
“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.
Mr Perry concluded: “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.”
A spokesperson for the FWO confirmed to My Business that is conducting formal inquiries into the allegations, however it could not comment further until its investigations are completed.
Rockpool has some 60 venues across four states, employing in excess of 3,000 people and turning over more than $350 million annually.
It is not the first time a celebrity chef has faced these accusations, with MasterChef judge George Calmobaris found to have inadvertently underpaid staff a reported $2.6 million over several years due to an apparent problem with his firm’s payroll system.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James has previously singled out the hospitality industry for appalling compliance rates.
“It is deplorable that nearly one-third of the most serious cases that end up in court involve this one sector,” she said in response to a small burger chain being fined $300,000 in court for wage underpayment.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.