In the same week that George Calombaris was slapped with a $200,000 fine for underpaying staff, celebrity restaurateur Neil Perry is being sued by a former Rockpool chef who alleges that he was underpaid and mistreated over a number of years.
Rohit Karki worked at the Rockpool & Bar & Grill restaurant in Melbourne, and claims that over a period of six years, he frequently worked 80-hour weeks, over half of which was unpaid. In more recent times, he says he worked in excess of 70 hours a week, much of that also unpaid.
Karki says that he frequently worked 20-hour shifts at the restaurant, and would sleep on a pastry bench on the premises, as he did not have enough time to leave and come back for his next shift.
The chef, originally from Nepal, told The Sunday Age that he was plunged into a “depression”, as he was on a temporary work visa for the early years of his employment, and was therefore unable to leave the job.
Karki quit earlier this year, saying he was “bullied” out by a senior staff member after complaining about underpayment. If successful, he stands to be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and damages.
Neil Perry and the Rockpool group were the subject of a Fairfax investigation last year, which uncovered systemic underpayment at the restaurants, and a culture of unpaid overtime, pushing rate well below minimum wage.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who are representing Karki, say that they are seeking “significant penalties” for breaches of the Fair Work Act, in addition to an audit of Rockpool Group’s finances and orders allowing for ongoing training and compliance assessments.
A representative for Rockpool told PEDESTRIAN.TV : “Rockpool Dining Group is reviewing the allegations made by Mr Karki, but it would be inappropriate to comment while the matter is before the Court. We continue to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman and past and present employees regarding any amounts that may be owing. Rockpool Dining Group has telephone and email channels available for current and former employees, and remains prepared to address any enquiries.”