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‘Underpayment’, ‘exploitation’: Rockpool boss Neil Perry sued by former chef

Rockpool Bar & Grill boss Neil Perry. (AAP Image/Luis Enrique Ascui)

Rockpool Bar & Grill boss Neil Perry will be facing the Federal Court after a former chef on a temporary visa filed a legal claim against him for allegedly being forced to work excessive overtime without pay.

Chef Rohit Karki, represented by law firm Maurice Blackburn, began working at Rockpool’s Melbourne restaurant in 2012, but once he secured visa sponsorship in 2013, his employment circumstances allegedly deteriorated rapidly.

He allegedly worked over 70 hours every week, which pushed his pay down to $12 an hour.

He also allegedly pulled 20-hour shifts that saw him finish up at 1am, forcing him to nap at work in order to be ready for the next 4am shift.

“I slept several nights at Rockpool on a pastry bench because there was no way I could go home and come back in time,” he told The Sunday Age.

After media reports in June 2018 revealed systemic underpayment in the Rockpool restaurants, Karki complained to Rockpool.

He was then allegedly bullied by a senior chef, forced onto a new roster of completing the prep work of three staff by himself, and pressured to resign, which he did in March this year.

Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein said Rockpool had committed numerous and serious contraventions of the Award and the Fair Work Act.

“This is another Dickensian example of wage theft and exploitation of vulnerable workers that is all too common in the hospitality industry,” he said.

“Rockpool is no bit player. It’s a highly profitable business empire which has been cheating.”

The conduct is “particularly egregious” given that Rockpool had publicly said it would fix underpayment issues after being exposed in the media in June 2018, yet were bullying kitchen workers behind closed doors, Bornstein said.

More had to be done to protect hospitality industry workers from the culture of underpayment and exploitation and called for an enquiry into the hospitality industry’s labour practices, Bornstein added.

“We are paying a very high price for the policies and laws that have deunionised workplaces in recent decades,” he said.

“In addition, the abuse of working visa schemes is harming the labour market and the broader economy.”

Underpayment across the hospitality and retail industry

The legal claim comes just a few days after another celebrity chef, Masterchef judge George Calombaris, was fined $200,000 for underpaying staff $7.8 million.

And only weeks ago did Michael Hill admit to underpaying staff up to $25 million on the same day that Shangri-La owned up to underpaying Sydney staff roughly $250,000.

In recent months, organisations, like Merivale, Qantas, the ABCFlight Centrepetrol chains, and various franchisees such as PappaRich and Chatime have also been found engaging in wage theft.

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