Up until a mere couple of weeks ago, 20 year-old Kahlani Pyrah was an employee at the Grill’d outlet in Camberwell – a reasonably affluent suburb in Melbourne’s inner east.

Grill’d, at least outwardly, makes great efforts to present itself as an ethically conscious company that engages with its local community. Any of you who’s ever been to a Grill’d will know of their ongoing “Local Matters” campaign that seeks to benefit local community groups and organisations in the area of each franchise, as well as their policy on sourcing local and organic produce for use in their food.

However, as Pyrah discovered, the way that Grill’d runs their employee contracts veers into unfair territory. Not only are people employed at Grill’d paid under minimum wage, but their penalty rates are completely non-existent – even on Sundays or when working hours extend until 2am.

As it turns out, Grill’d’s employee agreement was formed back in 2007, in the tail end of the much derided WorkChoices era – the widely panned, failed workplace relations reform that ultimately proved the catalyst for the Howard Government being voted out of office. The contract, whilst not illegal, remains unfair and below the current hospitality award conditions. The arrangement – which covers at least five restaurants in Melbourne – pays staff a flat hourly rate of $17.52, with no weekend or penalty rates whatsoever. Restaurant award rates state that Adults should, in fact, be receiving somewhere in the vicinity of $18.47 an hour, with the usual penalty loading for weekend, late nights, and public holidays.

Pyrah took this case to her managers, seeking to get the WorkChoices contract terminated. Management at this point allegedly promised to raise wages to the minimum, and provide employees with backpay, as long as Pyrah dropped the case and the company maintained the WorkChoices contract.

When the promised pay increase didn’t arrive, Pyrah again approached management, this time insisting she would take the case further and challenge the contract. Two days later, she received an official bullying complaint, lodged by her assistant manager. Eleven days after the meeting, Grill’d fired her.

In a statement posted to their website, United Voices details the situation thusly:

“Ms Pryah was sacked after raising questions with Grill’d about a WorkChoices-era “Greenfield Agreement” that removes overtime, penalty rates and undercuts award pay.”

“Ms Pyrah received advice from her union that Grill’d staff could ask the Fair Work Commission to terminate the job contract and receive their full award entitlements.”

“Ms Pyrah held a meeting with co-workers to discuss their options and circulated a petition to management asking to be paid full award entitlements which was signed by eight staff.

But despite repeated promises over many months Grill’d management failed to satisfactorily address staff concerns.”

“On 30 June Ms Pyrah applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the Work Choices-era job contract.

Ten days later Ms Pyrah was sacked by Grill’d.”

United Voice Victorian Secretary Jess Walsh went further, describing the incident as “disgusting treatment.”

“Kahlani’s case is a shocking example of just how hard it is for vulnerable workers to join together and have a voice at work.”

“Kahlani has been incredibly brave speaking up for her coworkers and asking Grill’d to respect their legal rights. For that, Grill’d has tried to silence her and force her out of her job.”

Kahlani herself started a petition to be reinstated by Grill’d – the job helps her support herself whilst studying in Melbourne, having moved from regional Queensland – with the online campaign at last count having just under 14,000 signatures.

I want my job back. I want my workmates to get paid the award minimum and I want Grill’d to respect our right to join a union and speak out. This is supposed to be a democratic country so it should be our choice. But it’s not. Many of my coworkers are just too scared.

In a short statement, Grill’d denied all claims made by Pyrah and United Voices.

“The owners run a values-based business that prides itself on providing a safe and enjoyable workplace for its employees. The franchise partners at this restaurant work hard to make staff and community responsibilities their highest priority.”

“These claims are vigorously denied by management and will be strongly defended.”

The claim lodged to the Fair Work Commission also states that employees were not properly registered as trainees, that training took place outside of work hours and was unpaid, that meal and uniform allowances were removed, and that employees have been forced to purchase their own uniforms.

Grill’d’s social media pages have been inundated with angry customers insisting that the minimum wage be paid to employees.

We will follow this story as it continues to develop over the coming weeks.

via ABC NewsThe Age, & United Voice.