The company behind the billion dollar pub empire run by Justin Hemmes has complained about having to pay proper wages and entitlements to their staff.
Yesterday, the Fair Work Commission finally ended the Merivale Group’s Work Choices-era employment agreement, which allowed the company to pay thousands of young workers well below the current hospitality award.
From March, Marivale will be forced to pay proper award rates of pay.
In a bizarre whinge to the Commission, Merivale’s human resources manager Kate Tones suggested that paying workers their entitled wages and overtime or penalty rates would place the profitability of the business at risk.
“Merivale will need to consider the viability of business practices which while viable under the EBA, may not be viable under the modern award,” she wrote in a submission to the Commission.
She also lamented a requirement to give staff mandatory breaks, given none were currently offered.
‘Cry me a river!’
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Fair Work Claims, scoffed at the suggestion.
“Cry me a river!” he said. “We are talking about a business that’s worth about a billion dollars and makes huge profits, and they’ve been doing that for years by paying below award wages, and not giving their staff any breaks.
“If ripping off workers is the only way to make your business viable, then you shouldn’t be in business.”
A billion dollar business
The Hemmes family empire includes 70 hotels, pubs and restaurants throughout Sydney, including The Ivy, The Beresford and The Establishment, as well as the Newport Hotel on the northern beaches.
The Merivale Group is worth an estimated $1 billion to the Hemmes family and Justin is thought to have a personal fortune of $300 million.
How workers were ripped off
The old agreement worked like this:
A worker was paid $24.20 an hour for casual work on any day and at any time, and on public holidays that amount only increased to $25.50 an hour.
Under the current award:
A casual worker is entitled to an hourly rate of $27.48 Monday to Friday evenings, $30.33 on Saturdays, $35.39 on Sundays and $50.55 on public holidays.
According to the United Voice union, one of the young workers who came forward and complained was out of pocket about $3,000 a year.
“How on earth Merivale was allowed to get away with it for so long is astounding,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Being able to pay workers half the award rate not only allowed them to make huge profits, it also gave their venues a huge advantage over their competitors.”
Former employees say Merivale driven by greed
Two former workers told news.com.au they weren’t surprised by Merivale’s resistance to paying staff fairly.
Paul Burns, who used to work at a Merivale establishment, claimed workers were forced to hand over half of their tips each week.
“They never did really justify it. We had to hand over our tips each night and we got half back and the rest just disappeared never to be seen again,” he said.
“And yes, the pay was horrendous.”
Another former employee who worked at the company’s head office said conditions were “just f***ing horrible”.
“Hoards of people mashed into the one office space, one toilet. — I was told I could use one of the venues downstairs if I was busting,” the ex-staffer told news.com.au.
Mr Hemmes was unavailable for an interview requested by news.com.au.
RELATED STORY: Restaurant manager in court for a third time over wage theft
RELATED STORY: Celebrity chef Neil Perry denies ripping off workers
If you have not been paid your proper wages and entitlements, we can help.
Please call Fair Work Claims today on
1300 324 748
To connect with us, please follow us on
Fair Work Claims is a private consultancy and advocacy firm with no affiliation to any government agency, commission or tribunal.