Celebrity chef and TV personality George Calombaris has become a poster boy for wage theft in the hospitality industry.
MAdE Establishment, of whom Calombaris was the founder, shareholder and managing director, was found to have been underpaying workers since 2015. $7.8 million was owed to more than 500 staff, some of who were ripped off by more than $16,000 each.
An investigation was launched by Fair Work Australia and the wages were eventually repaid, but rather than a jail term or hefty fine Calombaris was only made to pay a scant contrition payment of $200,000!
This inadequate punishment has added to calls for a crackdown on bosses engaging in the theft of wages.
Wage theft most often takes the form of unpaid overtime and entitlements. While big companies like 7-Eleven and Domino’s have made headlines, small businesses are rife with the practise. It is estimated that half of all hospitality businesses do not pay proper legal wages.
While Fair Work played a role to recover the stolen wages from Calombaris on this occasion, it was an exceptional case. Thousands of businesses are similarly rorting workers and are either ignored by Fair Work or get an even lighter slap on the wrist.
Only workers themselves can ensure their wages and conditions are defended. We need to expand unionisation in the hospitality sector to put collective pressure on the employers to adhere to the law. The threat of workers going on strike is much greater than the threat of a possible phone call from Fair Work.
If an underpaid worker was caught stealing from the boss, they could face jail time. But bosses routinely steal from workers, and rarely even face penalties. Tokenistic fines are factored in by companies as a cost of doing business.
While socialists support tougher penalties for bosses who break the law, we also see wage theft as part of the capitalist system. Profits themselves are unpaid wages. Workers are always underpaid, even when the boss adheres to the law.
Socialists fight to reduce exploitation under capitalism by unionising workers but we also fight for a system that does away with exploitation and wage theft once and for all.
By Ben McIntyre