The Hospo Voice Union said in a press statement that it has hired Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to lodge a complaint against Rockpool with the Fair Work Ombudsman, after receiving numerous complaints from current and former staff of unlawful conduct at the restaurant group.
The complaint details accusations that the group tampered with timesheet software so that staff were seen to be working no more than 38 hours a week, despite the use of fingerprint scanners to clock on and off, and showing that some had worked up to 100 hours a week.
Maurice Blackburn has estimated Rockpool’s wage theft bill to be at least $10 million.
“This is one of the most egregious cases of wage theft in Australian history,” said Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Josh Bornstein.
“Based on information provided, Rockpool has been caught falsifying the timesheet records of staff in order to cheat them out of their wages.
“The falsification of timesheets disproves the employer narrative of complex awards and honest mistakes and shows the underpayments for what they really are: a deliberate effort to cheat workers out of their minimum legal entitlements.”
The law firm also argued that a wage theft scandal of this magnitude — which, if true, would exceed the $7.8 million repaid by George Calombaris’ MAdE Establishment Group — should require the federal government to seek court-imposed penalties at the maximum amount.
The case saw Prime Minister Scott Morrison putting employers on notice by moving to criminalise wage theft.
Celebrity chef Calombaris’ MAdE Establishment also made a $200,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.
“Following the Calombaris debacle, the ombudsman must now prosecute Rockpool and go for the maximum fines available to salvage its reputation as a regulator,” Mr Bornstein said.
“Although it’s no comfort to the staff robbed at Rockpool, it’s good to see state and federal governments planning to make wage theft a crime.
“But only effective criminalisation will do the job: it can’t be reserved for just the worst offenders; it must create a dedicated wage theft inspectorate and empower unions to investigate and prosecute dodgy bosses, and it must give workers cheaper and faster access to wage justice through the courts.”
Claims ‘false and misleading’: Rockpool
After the union’s statement was circulated to the media on Thursday (24 October 2019), Rockpool Dining Group issued a statement on its website hitting back at the allegations, claiming they have “been made without any substantiation”.
Rockpool claimed that it has “no evidence to substantiate claims of group-wide manipulation or destruction of data in order to intentionally underpay employees”.
The business’s full statement, published on Thursday, is republished below:
Rockpool Dining Group (RDG) is engaged with the Fair Work Ombudsman directly and has not been provided any submission by Maurice Blackburn and Hospo Voice as referred to by Fairfax today. The allegations attributed to Maurice Blackburn are extremely serious in nature, but have only been put to us by Fairfax and with no substantiation or detail, despite what has been reported.
We believe the article published by Fairfax includes false and misleading information and includes allegations by parties with limited knowledge of relevant facts. These allegations have been made without any substantiation.
In particular, comments relating to Rockpool attributed to United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy are simply untrue.
RDG has no evidence to substantiate claims of group wide manipulation or destruction of data in order to intentionally underpay employees.
RDG also notes that Maurice Blackburn is currently acting in separate court proceedings on behalf of an ex-employee, and it is unclear whether the allegations that have been put to us are relevant to those proceedings. It is not appropriate to provide further comment on active matters.
RDG continues to assess historical wage practices and remains committed to addressing legacy practices. At all times the company remains engaged with FWO and RDG team members, past and present.
We take these allegations very seriously. We encourage team members, past and present, to continue to make use of our HR hotline 02 8017 3155, or [email protected] to report their concerns.