Entertainment Celebrity George Calombaris faces new claims of staff underpayment

George Calombaris faces new claims of staff underpayment

George Calombaris
The Masterchef judge is once-again accused of underpaying staff. Photo: AAP/Network Ten
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Former waiters at one of George Calombaris’ Hellenic Republic restaurants in Melbourne claim they’ve been underpaid and the restaurant is refusing to reimburse them.

The news comes after the celebrity chef’s MaDE Establishment group was forced to apologise to 162 employees for underpaying them and provided backpay totalling $2.6 million.

The ABC has spoken to five former employees who claim their jobs were misclassified so they could be paid less than they were entitled to.

Only one former employee has been paid back, but other former staff believe many others could be affected.

Former waiter Orlaith Belfrage, 25, told the ABC she was owed $2000 from her time working as a waiter at Hellenic Republic in Brunswick East from March 2013 to May 2014.

Ms Belfrage said she was paid at a grade-one level for much of her employment. But she claimed her duties sat at a higher level and involved supervising staff.

A reference provided for Ms Belfrage by Hellenic Republic reportedly stated: “On many occasions she has been able to step up to higher levels of responsibility, including running of shifts, co-ordinating staff and overseeing of day-to-day operation.”

Ms Belfrage has sent several emails to MaDE Establishment, claiming she was paid at the wrong level.

However, the company replied: “Our records indicate that you were appropriately classified at the time of your employment.”

Some of Ms Belfrage’s former colleagues who performed similar roles have been paid back at the correct rate.

The news comes less than a year after George Calombaris promised to ensure all his employees were paid the right amounts.

Former Hellenic Republic casual employee Aidan Carter, 24, raised the underpayment issue with MaDE Establishment in 2017.

The company agreed it had paid him less than he was entitled to. It  initially offered him $1200.

After Mr Carter questioned the payment, he was offered $1400.

He told the ABC it seemed unfair that he had been back paid, while his former colleagues – who did the same work – were not.

“It’s disgusting, really. It’s what’s wrong with the hospitality industry at the moment,” he said.

‘”Last year the company introduced new company values, using the acronym LIFE. F stands for family. Well, you wouldn’t treat your family like this.”

MaDE Establishment chief executive Troy McDonagh said he could not comment as the company had not concluded its investigation.

He instead pointed out the business’ track record of repaying staff.

“To date [we] have made good all payments due to both current and former employees,” Mr McDonagh told the ABC.

“[We are] committed to ongoing compliance with the restaurant award structures, as we have clearly demonstrated from the very beginning.”

“We are working very closely and collaboratively with FWO [Fair Work Ombudsman] as we have since April 3, 2017,” he said.