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George Calombaris fined after underpaying workers $7.83 million

George Calombaris. Image: Getty

Celebrity chef George Calombaris has been fined $200,000 after underpaying hundreds of his workers $7.83 million.

The $200,000 fine is described as a “contrition payment”, after the Masterchef judge was found to have underpaid 515 current and former employees by $7.83 million. This is in addition to back-paying underpaid workers.

Calombaris is also forced to become an ambassador for the Fair Work Commission, and must pay for audits in all his Australian restaurants.

This comes after a four year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman into Calombaris’ company, Made Establishment.

The company had in April 2017 put the underpayment figure at a much smaller $2.6 million, and said only 162 workers were affected by the “poor” payment processes.

Staff from Made Establishment complained to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2015.

Calombaris owns restaurants Jimmy Grants, Hellenic Republic and Gazi, after closing the Press Club earlier this month.

George Calombaris responds

Calombaris apologised to staff today.

"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," he said.

"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."

Made said it had first seen the incorrect payments in early 2017, as a new ownership and management team came into effect.

"Since changing ownership, we have introduced a new CEO, a new People and Culture Director and new processes and procedures to ensure we're not only complying with workplace relations laws but actively promoting a culture of employee wellbeing," Made group CEO, Leigh Small, said.

"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."

In a statement today, Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said Made’s enforceable undertaking with the Ombudsman would ensure the company improved wage conditions and record keeping practices.

“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.”

The news comes as Masterchef gears up for its grand finale this week.

Unions call for Masterchef to dump Calombaris

Unions NSW took to Twitter to call for Masterchef to remove Calombaris from the show.

“Hey @masterchefau, we know you don’t support chefs ripping off their workers, and that you would never endorse a chef underpaying their staff millions of dollars. So why is Calombaris on your payroll?” the union wrote.

“It’s time to drop the Masterthief from Masterchef.”

Channel 10, Masterchef stand by George Calombaris

“George and Made Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter. George has the support of Network Ten. We will not be making any further comment,” a Network 10 spokesperson said.

Network 10 made a similar statement in 2017 when Calombaris’ wage woes first came to light.

“George Calombaris and his team at Made are dealing with the incorrect payments made to employees to ensure every affected employee receives their full entitlements. George has the full support of Network Ten,” a Ten spokesperson said at the time.

“He is an integral part of Masterchef Australia and we know viewers are looking forward to welcoming him, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston back for an exciting and engaging new season of this much-loved and extremely popular show.”

  • With AAP.

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