Celebrity chef and MasterChef winner Adam Liaw has called for wage theft to be criminalised, as the fallout from former MasterChef judge George Calombaris‘ $7.8 million wage underpayment scandal continues. 

Speaking on Q&A last night, Liaw was asked whether the Australian hospitality industry tacitly approves of restaurant owners and chefs paying their personnel under the award rate.

“I have worked in a lot of restaurants, I have flipped burgers, I have washed dishes, I have cleaned toilets,” Liaw said.

“And I can tell you in the vast majority of those jobs I was not paid an award wage.”

While Liaw said it is often smaller establishments who run afoul of the award wage system, he said “none of this is an excuse for not paying your employees properly” and called for wage thieves to face criminal prosecution.

“To that I would say, ‘Why not?’ It’s a form of fraud and dishonesty like anything else.”

While Liaw would not be drawn on Calombaris’ specific circumstances, he said prison sentences should “definitely be on the table” for those found guilty of large-scale wage theft.

The chef added that the award wage system could be simplified to help small operators navigate their obligations – keeping in mind that bosses rarely pay their employees over the award rate by mistake.

There was also some weird, libertarian prevaricating from thinktanker Parnell Palme McGuinness over whether wage theft should be criminalised. That was shut down by Liberal senator Eric Abetz, of all people:

“And if you can’t make your business run without stealing wages, then you shouldn’t be in the business.”

Watch the whole thing here. 

Image: Q&A / ABC