Digital art for the tele
Digital art for the tele

Rockpool pinched $10m from workers: Union

Rockpool restaurant group, fronted by celebrity chef Neil Perry, stands accused of a 10 million dollar wage theft case against its staff with altered time sheets at the centre of the allegations.

Hospitality union Hospo Voice, through class-action firm Maurice Blackburn, filed a complaint against Rockpool dining group with the Fair Work Ombudsman calling for prosecution of the restaurant group on Friday.

The complaint, seen by The Daily Telegraph, says Rockpool's practices are "infected by a flagrant disregard of applicable workplace laws" and allegedly cheated staff for six years.

There is no allegation Mr Perry engaged in misconduct.

The union, in the complaint, alleges time sheet software was manually overridden to show many staff were only working 38 hour weeks when they were, in reality, working an average of 50 hours.

Chef Neil Perry.
Chef Neil Perry.

At times they were working an "excessive and unsafe" 75 to 100 hours each week, the complaint alleges.

Many staff were on salaries and Rockpool used that to withhold penalty rates and overtime despite many of the extra hours being worked "on weekends, public holidays and late into the night", the document says.

Rockpool says the allegations have been made in the media "without any substantiation".

"RDG has no evidence to substantiate claims of group wide manipulation or destruction of data in order to intentionally underpay employees," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The submission to the ombudsman came after numerous complaints from current and former staff about the "egregious" behaviour of the culinary empire, the union said in a statement on Thursday.

"This is one of the most egregious cases of wage theft in Australian history," Maurice Blackburn's principal lawyer Josh Bornstein said.

"Based on information provided, Rockpool has been caught falsifying the time sheet records of staff in order to cheat them out of their wages."

Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney.
Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney.

The complaint also alleges chefs' were paid below minimum wage as a result of the salary abuse.

Meanwhile, Rockwpool was keeping migrant workers quiet during their exploitation using a "culture of fear" which warned they could be fired if they spoke up, the complaint alleges says.

"This could impact on their ability to continue living in Australia, where many of them have now built a life."

The law firm estimates at least $10m of entitlements are owed to staff as a result.

The high-profile group boasts 80 restaurants to its name ranging from "humble" pizza and burger joints to its renowned namesake Rockpool Bar and Grill venues in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, according to its website.

"We are creating the best dining group in Australia, with those who dine in our restaurants at the centre of it," the website reads.

But the law firm and union allege Rockpool is a worse offender than celebrity chef George Calombaris' MADE Establishment which underpaid 500 staff to the tune of $7.83 million.

Bar Patron by Rockpool Group.
Bar Patron by Rockpool Group.

He was ordered, in July this year, to repay his workers as well as a $200,000 "contrition payment".

One of the group's former Melbourne chefs, Rohit Karki, is a central figure in the complaint and is referred to as "a slave of Rockpool".

Mr Karki, who is also represented by Maurice Blackburn in a Federal Court case against the group, alleges he worked 20-hour shifts for $12 an hour.

Rockpool's statement notes "it is unclear whether the allegations that have been put to us are relevant to those proceedings", in an apparent reference to Mr Karki's case.

"It is not appropriate to provide further comment on active matters," Rockpool said.

The case studies cited in the complaint, the union alleges, point to Rockpool's practices being widespread, intentional and unlawful.

"This is not a case of a rogue manager, or a simple mistake in calculation," the complaint says.

"This is a business model and system of work implemented and condoned by the management of Rockpool."

The union wants a response from the ombudsman by November 1.