Max Brenner is now in voluntary administration. Picture: Supplied
Max Brenner is now in voluntary administration. Picture: Supplied

The dark side of Max Brenner

FURIOUS former Max Brenner employees say the "toxic" company has been serving up store-bought ice cream at premium prices and letting food hygiene slip - after being let go without pay and superannuation

Sacked chocolate workers from across the country have contacted news.com.au, describing the "shambles" which enveloped the company over the past few months and claim they have been treated "like garbage".

One store supervisor, Marilyn*, who did not want to be named because she is fighting to claw back more than $3000 in wages from her last month in the job as well as a year's worth of superannuation which was not paid, says the financial woes became very apparent to workers about seven months ago.

She said this resulted in customers paying full price for supermarket ice cream - which staff had to run out and buy - as well as food hygiene and cleaning standards dipping because workers were so overworked and understaffed.

"There have been multiple times where we have been paid late or in split payments because they couldn't afford to pay us," she said.

Employees told news.com.au they haven’t been paid since September 5. Picture: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
Employees told news.com.au they haven’t been paid since September 5. Picture: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

"The ice cream and milk order accounts have been frozen multiple times because the company couldn't pay their debts.

"This meant that we did not receive milk or ice cream and supervisors had to take hundreds of dollars of petty cash out of the till and walk to Coles to buy enough to get us through the day. Sometimes we have to buy ice cream and customers are still paying full price for that."

Other staff members from around the country report being denied toilet and rest breaks, penalty rates not being paid and a "toxic" environment where they were "always understaffed and always overworked" and received "very little training".

"I don't know how the health inspectors haven't shut down this place," said. Marilyn. "All of the freezers and syrup dispensers are at wrong temperatures (not cold enough or not hot enough).

"We have had barely any crockery or cutlery or stock to run the store. We were always so understaffed it was disgusting. This was because they couldn't afford to put enough labour on. This has been the most stressful job I've ever worked and I did it for $21 an hour with no rates."

She joined the company when her two housemates were working there and immediately she enjoyed the work.

The company trained her in all aspects of the business, meaning she was never bored, and she praised the "amazing staff members" she worked alongside.

However, she began to suspect something was amiss when she heard employees weren't being paid superannuation - despite seeing it being "paid" into her fund every month on her pay slip.

After she inquired with head office, it turned out she hadn't been paid a cent.

The chain cited ‘escalating costs and tighter retail trade’ as the reasons for entering voluntary administration last week. Picture: Craig Wilson
The chain cited ‘escalating costs and tighter retail trade’ as the reasons for entering voluntary administration last week. Picture: Craig Wilson

"When I figured that out and inquired I was told by certain higher-up employees, that they were told to keep it a secret that no one is being paid their super," she said. "Once I inquired I was sent an email from payroll where they apologised and promised to get back to me with the dates on which my super would be paid. They never got back to me."

Not only that, she and several other former employees who contacted news.com.au, say they haven't been paid since September 5.

They all say they have been left in the dark as to whether they will ever get that money back. Marilyn says there's been no response to her inquiries and administrator McGrathNicol is just sending stock emails to employees.

When Max Brenner announced its financial collapse last week, the chain told the media it would still be "business as usual" - and that's what staff were told too.

However, just days later, Marilyn came out of the cinema to a barrage of text messages from mates and employees, which began with "sorry" and contained links to media articles.

She found out from these articles that her store along with 19 others across the country would close just two days later.

She wanted to sleep in the next day because she decided not to go to work. The administrators said it was up to supervisors if they wanted to open over the weekend and Marilyn decided it wasn't worth it.

"I woke up the next day to texts from that employee saying that the administrators were now saying that we had to come into work or we would not be paid the money that they owed us from September," she said.

"They said that they would count it as a resignation if we didn't show up, and we would forfeit last month's pay.

"I had to work Saturday, Sunday and Monday because I was rostered on and I needed my pay that they were threatening to not give me.

The chain closed 20 of its Aussie stores on Monday. Picture: Supplied
The chain closed 20 of its Aussie stores on Monday. Picture: Supplied

"Those were the busiest, worst shifts I've worked in my life because staff didn't show up, for good reason, and because so many customers wanted to come in for one last time. I begged to close the store as I was physically not able to do it. They said I couldn't.

"I have literally spilt blood, sweat and tears over this company and I've always been treated like garbage by HQ. Now the administrators are treating us even worse. It's atrocious."

Max Brenner has not respond directly to the claims from its former staff members, when asked by news.com.au. However, a spokesman for McGrathNicol - which now represents the chain - said the "points … raise(d) will be looked into as part of their detailed review of the company's affairs".

Staff at the 20 locations will be made redundant as administrators try to sell or recapitalise the business and keep its remaining stores trading.

"The decision to close stores is always regrettable but in this case we were left with no choice following a store-by-store review of Max Brenner operations," administrator Barry Kogan said in a statement.

Nine stores will remain open in NSW, four in Victoria, three in Queensland and one in the ACT.

The company is pulling out of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory entirely.

Max Brenner Australia cited "escalating costs and tighter retail trade" as the reasons for entering voluntary administration last week.

A major overhaul of its head office in Alexandria, Sydney was blamed for the company not paying staff superannuation for the last six months of 2016.

In a letter sent to staff in February 2017 and seen by Fairfax, the company said the multimillion-dollar renovations were "a major landmark" that "prepares us for the growth that lies ahead".

"However, as a result of these investments, we are currently refinancing several areas of the business," it read. "This process is unfortunately taking longer than originally planned and is having a temporary effect on cash flow."

 

*name has been changed at interviewee's request