Workplace Minister to pursue allegations against Rockpool empire
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Workplace Minister to pursue allegations against Rockpool empire

Federal Workplace Minister Craig Laundy says he will follow up allegations of workplace exploitation by the Rockpool Dining Group, revealed on Sunday by Fairfax Media.

Chef Neil Perry (right) and Rockpool Dining Group chief executive Thomas Pash at Sake restaurant in Sydney.

Chef Neil Perry (right) and Rockpool Dining Group chief executive Thomas Pash at Sake restaurant in Sydney.

Photo: Wolter Peeters

The high-profile restaurant business fronted by celebrity chef Neil Perry is significantly underpaying key staff as they work up to 70 hours a week in harsh conditions, an investigation by Fairfax Media found.

The investigation uncovered underpayments at two of the group's restaurant businesses, Sake and Munich Brauhaus.

The private equity-owned Rockpool Dining Group has also put significant pressure on vulnerable migrant workers, the investigation found.

Some chefs working for the group are earning as little as half what they should after being paid for 38 hours a week while actually working up to 15 or 20 hours of unpaid overtime.

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Workplace Minister Craig Laundy.

Workplace Minister Craig Laundy.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In extreme cases, skilled chefs at the Rockpool Dining Group's restaurants are earning as little as $15 an hour some weeks, well below the minimum wage, while working up to 30 hours' unpaid overtime.

Company emails seen by Fairfax also advised workers on how not to record the actual hours they worked, another likely contravention of workplace laws.

Mr Laundy told Sky News on Sunday he would ensure that the Ombudsman asked Fairfax's reporters for the documents which backed up the worker's claims.

"All allegations of this type ... should be followed up and are followed up by the Fair Work Ombudsman," he said.

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In a statement to Fairfax, the minister said the Liberal government had reinforced the Ombudsman's powers to investigate such issue.

"The Turnbull Government has zero tolerance for exploitation of workers and underpayment of wages and entitlements," he said.

"This is why the Turnbull Government increased funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman by $20 million and introduced tougher laws to crack down on employers who exploit vulnerable workers ... Penalties that are now 10 times higher than previously."

The minister encouraged workers who believe they are being underpaid to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The investigation by Fairfax Media revealed the Rockpool Dining Group was significantly underpaying staff and exploiting migrant workers.

The company has been underpaying staff as much as $800 per week.

Many workers at Rockpool Dining Group are migrants and vulnerable to deportation from Australia if they lose their jobs, making it extremely difficult to speak out or complain about their treatment at the restaurants.

Rockpool Dining Group did not respond directly to the allegation raised by the report, stating that it was "difficult to comment on alleged documents we have not seen, may be incomplete or falsified".

"That said, we take these claims very seriously. It should be noted our employees are remunerated in line with the industry award ... our permanent employees are on annualised salaries and there are mechanisms in place to review pay annually."

Mr Perry sold Rockpool Group in late 2016, becoming the group's chief brand and culinary director and a significant shareholder.

Rockpool Dining Group is expected to make $40 million in profits this year.

Ben Schneiders is an investigative reporter at The Age with a background reporting on industrial relations, business, politics and social issues. A two-time Walkley Award winner, he has been part of The Age’s investigative unit since 2015.

Royce Millar is an investigative journalist with a special interest in public policy and government decision-making.