Taste confidential- Haloumi Festival
Taste confidential- Haloumi Festival

Calls for Calombaris to face MasterChef sack

CELEBRITY chef George Calombaris has apologised for his role in underpaying staff almost $8 million.

In a concession to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the MasterChef star's MAdE Establishment has now backpaid 515 current and former employees $7.8 million following an investigation for work between 2011 and 2017.

But Calombaris' public apology has done nothing to appease some of his former workers, with one calling for his sacking from Channel 10's long-running hit show.

Social media has also run hot today wanting him immediately removed from MasterChef.

Under-fire Calombaris in happier times, Picture Rebecca Michael.
Under-fire Calombaris in happier times, Picture Rebecca Michael.

Former Hellenic Republic employee Orlaith Belfrage believes Calombaris needed to "pay a serious price".

"He should be taken off MasterChef. How many more excuses does George get?," she said.

"Because the case has gone on so long, many former staff won't ever get to recover their money.

"He should be properly punished and this is why criminalising wage theft cannot come soon enough."

The hospitality union, United Voice, claims Calombaris should be forever referred to as a "wage thief".

"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," United Voice national secretary Jo-anne Schofield said.

"If someone deliberately took $1000 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 $7.83 million in wages from your workers and get away with a "contrition payment"."

The ACTU has also claimed Calombaris is "one of Australia's leading wage thieves".

"Workers in Calombaris' restaurants have been fighting for years to expose him and their win today is a huge encouragement to all other workers," ACTU president Michele O'Neil said.

However, Channel 10 is standing by its man.

"George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment," a Channel 10 spokeswoman said.

MAdE has also been fined $200,000 with the "contrition payment" going to a Commonwealth fund.

Another part of the deal requires Calombaris, 40, to make public speeches to "educate the restaurant industry on the importance of workplace compliance".

MAdE also needs to publish written apologies, at its own expense, in the Saturday Herald Sun and The Weekend Australian, as well as through its social media channels and website.

"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," Calombaris said via a statement to the Herald Sun this morning.

George Calombaris at his up-market Press Club restaurant.
George Calombaris at his up-market Press Club restaurant.

"We are committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example when it comes to building and promoting supportive, healthy and compliant hospitality workplaces."

The new figure smashes the previous number estimated by Calombaris when the scandal first emerged in 2017.

It had been estimated that 162 staff at Calombaris' group of restaurants, including Hellenic Republic, The Press Club and Gazi, and his Jimmy Grants restaurants, were underpaid $2.6 million.

Calombaris is a founding and current shareholder of MAdE, and served as a director from 2008 to 2018.

The George Calombaris scandal first emerged two years ago. Picture: Nicki Connolly
The George Calombaris scandal first emerged two years ago. Picture: Nicki Connolly

MAdE chief executive Leigh Small said the company had cleaned up its act in the wake of the scandal.

"All current MAdE team members have been correctly classified, and all entitlements verified as owing to current and past employees have been calculated and paid, with a handful of claims now being finalised," he said.

Small said since changing ownership, MAdE has brought in new people to better comply with workplace relations laws.



Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the "court-enforceable undertaking" requires MAdE to treat its staff fairly.

"MAdE's massive back-payment bill should serve as a warning to all employers that if they don't get workplace compliance right from the beginning, they can spend years cleaning up the mess," Ms Parker said.

Calombaris on MasterChef with Curtis Stone and Gary Mehigan
Calombaris on MasterChef with Curtis Stone and Gary Mehigan

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers called the $200,000 fine "a slap on the wrist" and believes it's unlikely to discourage other businesses from going down the same path.

"For years, we have witnessed an extraordinary catalogue of underpayment scandals at successful companies, including 7 Eleven, Coles, Woolworths, Grill'd, Caltex, Rockpool and the Calombaris empire. Clearly the current regulatory system is not working," Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein said.