There is a lot to be said for getting out in front of a scandal. Broken initially by the Herald Sun on Sunday evening, news spread through the week of staff at celebrity chef George Calombaris’ restaurants being significantly underpaid — The Age, the ABC, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and others all published stories about it.
In an email to all staff Calombaris said he was “devastated” by the underpayments, which largely related to overtime.
The focus on Calombaris and his contrition (the majority of headlines mentioned his “devastation”) gave him the opportunity to mention that he had actually overpaid some staff, but he wasn’t going to be pursuing them. It made sure he was the one to bring up the fact that the Fair Work Ombudsman had raised concerns with the business a year before they initiated any kind of audit, and 18 months before anyone was compensated, as “something which should have resulted in us fixing our systems earlier”.
Almost all the stories, except the Oz, didn’t mention that Calombaris is on the record as an outspoken opponent of the penalty rates restaurants have to pay. Back in 2012 he told The Power Index “it’s just not a good business practice to be paying penalty rates”.
In the same Power Index interview, Calombaris said Sunday rates for restaurant workers were excessive because, after all, “it’s not like they’ve had to go to uni for 15 years”.
Calombaris had a lot to say on good business practice back then, but it turns out he could have taken a closer look at his own.