Rockpool Dining Group sued by former chef

23 July, 2019 by
Madeline Woolway

A chef who worked at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne is suing the restaurant group over alleged underpayments.

Chef Rohit Karki claims he worked more than 70 hours a week at the venue, which is operated by the Neil Perry-fronted Rockpool Dining Group. Karki alleges he worked from 4am to midnight with no breaks over consecutive days and needed to sleep on a pastry bench between the 20-hour shifts. The chef says many of the hours were unpaid, pushing his wages down to just $12 an hour.

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The Federal Court claim, through labour law firm Maurice Blackburn, covers six years of alleged underpayments. Karki worked at the group from 2012 until March 2019, when he quit after feeling pressured to resign. The chef, who is from Nepal, was originally employed on a temporary 457 visa.

“Significant penalties” for contraventions of the Fair Work Act will be sought by Maurice Blackburn, as well as an external and comprehensive audit of Rockpool Dining Group’s businesses.

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According to The Age, the claim could be “worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in underpayment penalties and damages“.

Rockpool Dining Group has declined to comment, stating it would be inappropriate while the matter is before the Court. A spokeswoman told media the restaurant empire continues to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman and past and present employees to rectify underpayments, which were revealed in June 2018.

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The hospitality industry has become notorious for wage scandals, with fellow celebrity chef George Calombaris and his group Made Establishment in hot water last week over underpayments totalling $7.83 million.

Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Borstein has also expressed concern over the lack of adequate actions against high profile underpayments in the industry.

In a statement, Borstein said the $200,000 fine for Calombaris’ group was unlikely to discourage restaurant businesses from exploiting staff.

Image: Neil Perry and Rockpool Dining Group CEO Thomas Pash