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Home > News > 2019 > July > “MasterTheft” scandal reveals systemic nature of wage theft

“MasterTheft” scandal reveals systemic nature of wage theft

The ugly truth about the widespread nature of wage theft in Australia has finally been brought to public attention following George Calombaris’ $7.8 million wage theft scandal.restaurant_wage_theft_002.jpg

An investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman concluded the celebrity chef’s restaurant empire, Made Establishments, owed millions to more than 500 staff who were unpaid over a six-year period.

To add injury to insult to his workers, the former MasterChef judge recently tried for a 40% wage increase on his estimated $1 million a season salary, during failed negotiations with Network 10.

Orlaith Belfrage, who started a Megaphone petition calling for the sacking of Calombaris from the hit TV show, is a former worker in one of the chef’s restaurants and was happy over the news of the chef’s exit fromMasterChef.

“We don’t need people like George Calombaris representing our industry, he built his empire and massive profile from stealing wages from his workers, including me,” said Belfrage.

““This shows the power of workers when we stand together in our union and fight for justice.

“We need people who will be real leaders of this industry and will stand up for fairness and respect for their workers.”

Calombaris self-declared wage under-payments in 2017, but only to the estimated figure of $2.6 million, which he blamed on a payroll error. 

The Fair Work investigation findings resulted in a $200,000 fine and the back-payment of the lost wages to employees, which Attorney-General Christian Porter has now agreed was “too-light” a punishment.

Wage theft widespread

The issue of wage theft by greedy employers is sadly not a rarity in Australia; whilst anyone else would find themselves facing criminal charges and prison time for stealing, employers are only facing a fine. 

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) President Michele O’Neil said harsher penalties are required for employers who steal from their employees, with wage theft being a systemic issue across entire industries, not just hospitality. 

“Working people have had enough of their wages being stolen and their rights being ignored, especially when those involved have made their fortunes off the back of their workers,” said O’Neil.

“This is a win for working people who have worked tirelessly for years to expose the rampant wage theft and exploitation on which Calombaris built his empire.

“Workers need easy access to unions to ensure they are being paid correctly and our laws need to change so it is quick and easy to get stolen wages back, along with meaningful deterrents for employers.”


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.