A current employee at troubled burger chain Grill’d has revealed she was serving alcohol without a mandatory Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate for over a year, in direct violation of Victorian state legislation.

It’s the latest in a series of scandals facing Grill’d around its training practices, with the Fair Work Ombudsman confirming last week it is investigating the burger chain.

Sarah*, 20, who has worked at a Victorian franchise since 2018, told PEDESTRIAN.TV she worked for approximately 14 months without completing her RSA, which she says was due to Grill’d repeatedly delaying the training.

She believes it was an effort to keep her wages at $14.50, which is $3.50 below the standard part-time employee wage of $18.00 and $4.99 below the current national minimum wage of $19.49.

“I thought it was meant to be one of the first things completed,” Sarah said.

“The first training thing would have been RSA which is probably the most important thing.

“But it took me to finish my whole entire traineeship. And then three months after that, even though I’d finished, for them to actually get me booked into a class.

“I was serving alcohol throughout the whole time.”

In Victoria, it is a legal requirement that “licensees and staff are subject to mandatory RSA requirements and have one month from the date they first sell, offer for sale or serve liquor on the licensed premises to complete an RSA program.”

Staff members also have to take a refresher course every three years.

A Grill’d spokesperson told PEDESTRIAN.TV that “all team members who are required to serve alcohol must have a responsible serving of alcohol certificate”, but said that not all staff are required to serve alcohol, and that those without certificates are told they cannot do so.

“There is a unit of competency included in our trainee program that is required to be completed within the first 30 days of employment,” the Grill’d spokesperson said.

“Our registered training organisations schedule weekly classes as a minimum but currently in Victoria, they are being run twice weekly.

“We are clear in our expectations as a company and periodically audit our records to ensure compliance.”

Follow up questions as to why a staff member would be required to work for a time far exceeding the 30 days before completing their RSA went unanswered.

Grill’d staff must complete mandatory training upon employment, and as per the 2015 enterprise agreement, can be eligible for an Accredited Traineeship on a part-time basis. 

From a survey conducted by Australian National University’s Canberra Students for Fair Work collective – which spoke with 370 current and former Grill’d staff – these traineeships perceived by employees as expected of new staff members, and are not as elective as the 2015 agreement said they would be.

Each trainee is expected to complete training on-the-job or partly on-the-job and partly off-the-job, and at completion, qualifies them for either a Certificate II or III in Hospitality. All training is paid-for by Grill’d, and all modules are designed by a registered training organisation.

Sarah says that she felt “pressured” into entering the traineeship when she was employed in mid-2018, but thought she’d be getting paid the standard minimum wage – which was $18.58 an hour in 2018. She was surprised to find she had been put on $14.50 an hour, a figure that wouldn’t budge until after she’d finished the traineeship.

Sarah said that she had completed her training entirely outside of work hours, cramming it all in as quickly as possible so she could bump up to the promised pay rate.

“That first year was a little hectic for me,” she said.

“I took on a big workload because I had to pay rent. And because you get paid so little you have to add on shifts, even though it’s stressing you out. I probably worked maybe 30 hours a week. I had full-time study as well.”

The two-year Canberra Students for Fair Work investigation and found that the compulsory traineeships are “little more than a mechanism to suppress wages”, and that “70% of workers surveyed spent zero working hours undertaking training at work” which is in direct breach of the Fair Work Commission’s fast food traineeship standards.

Other staff told PEDESTRIAN.TV they weren’t given allocated time to finish training, and have been told to do it “in a quiet 15 minutes” during their rostered shifts.

Sarah said it felt like she was in a rush to do the traineeship the whole time she went through it.

“It was pretty annoying, ’cause you just keep thinking to yourself, ‘Oh I’ll finish this, I’ll get the pay raise, I’ll be able to open my hours a little bit, maybe stress less a little bit’,” Sarah said.

She has confirmed that since having her traineeship signed off, her pay was elevated to $19.50 an hour, which is the national minimum wage as of May 2019.

Last month, Grill’d founder and managing director Simon Crowe sent out an “urgent” all-staff email and video, wary of impending media coverage about the company’s training practices and culture. Current and former staff from Grill’d have stepped forward with their experiences of working for the burger chain.

Fairfax has reported this week that Crowe allegedly forged his business partner’s signature on liquor license forms for stores in Perth, as well as filling out his personal details and answering questions about his professional career. It is a serious, criminal offence to forge another person’s signature, and providing false information on licensing forms can carry penalties up to $10,000.

A spokesperson from the Fair Work Ombudsman has told PEDESTRIAN.TV that enquiries are being conducted in relation to Grill’d, but as the enquiries are ongoing, no comment can be made. Fair Work is urging staff with concerns to contact them directly.

Image: Facebook / Grill'd