Newstart, wage theft and fat ducks

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

If you’re trying to "have a go" in order to put food on the table, don’t expect to "get a go" from this Coalition Government, writes executive editor Michelle Pini.

"HAVING A GO" just to put food on the table? Unless you're a well-fed restaurateur or politician, it's unlikely that you'll "get a go" from this Government.

The fact that George Calombaris was fined $200,000 is of no consequence to the staff who were jilted out of close to $8 million. This is a sum they are unlikely to earn in six years of full-time work and still only represents 2.5% of the outrageous sum stolen from them. But more importantly, it is of little comfort, since this fine was not paid directly to the victims of this crime.

But the Fair Work Ombudsman has also directed the celebrity chef to

'... give public speeches educating the restaurant industry on the “importance of workplace compliance.”'

So that's okay then. What's $8 million between portly restaurateurs and politicians?


Some time back, Calombaris attempted to butter his bread on both sides by leading the posse on the destruction of penalty rates — a campaign the Coalition Government endorsed with relish, slashing the wages of the already lowly-paid by around 15% for hospitality staff and an estimated overall cost to workers of $2.87 billion.

Coincidentally, on the same day penalty rates were cut, the Government gave its MPs a pay rise. This equates to our Prime Minister, personally, receiving an extra $11,000 per annum. Which means his increase in income is almost the same as the entire earnings of those on Newstart ($14,000). For the record, Morrison’s salary is now $549,229 per annum.

It appears, however, not having to pay people to give up public holidays and Sundays, while still, usually, slugging a levy on customers for this cost of doing business, was also not enough icing on the cake for a few others. Fellow food gurus Neil Perry, Heston Blumenthal, Shannon Bennett, Teage Ezard, Justin Hemmes and Guillaume Brahimi, have also been found to have underpaid their workers.


It is safe to assume that there are many more instances of gross wage theft and that these high-profile restaurateurs represent only those that have so far been investigated.

Wage theft, then, at least in the hospitality sector, is a business model — and a very successful one, if Calombaris’ empire is anything to go by.

Even union-bashing Attorney-General Christian Porter mumbled something about Calombaris' fine being "too low". He stopped short of actually drafting legislation to make wage theft a crime, however.

And what if those subsisting on peanuts and working their guts out to help build the empires of their employers should dare to lift their malnourished faces above the bread line?

Well, for workers in the hospitality sector, who are also studying – a common occurrence – having their pay rate slashed by the Government and wages stolen by the boss will also be compounded by their HECS debt repayments should they complete a degree.

And, since they have been “gifted” the right to an education and in case they should get any highfalutin ideas of, maybe, building their own empire one day, the Morrison Government has decided to collect that debt sooner. The threshold for repayments has now been reduced by more than 11% to the princely annual income of $45,881 per annum.

What of those who don't manage to find work, even in the hospitality industry's "salt mines"?


Despite PM Scott Morrison's claims that Australia is a world leader in welfare policy,

“... for many unemployed people, Australia not only doesn’t have one of the best safety nets in the world, it has one of the worst.”

This is the finding of expert Professor Peter Whiteford's Newstart analysis.

But do we really need an expert to work out that $40 day is not enough to live on? Unless you are living as a permanent guest of others’ charity, this amount of money won’t even cover rent, let alone electricity, heating, or a proper diet. And forget transportation — it is not possible to pay for petrol, registration, insurance or maintenance if you also wish to eat.

That's okay though, because, according to Deputy PM Michael McCormack,

"... people have to be prepared to move, sometimes, out of their comfort zone, out of their home town, and move to the next town to take a job. Newstart is not meant to be a living wage."


And according to the PM, who has actively opposed any suggestion of an increase to the Newstart payment,

“They [Newstart recipients] don’t just live on Newstart alone.”

That’s right! Lucky Newstart recipients also get an "energy supplement" of $4.40 a week!

This, of course, would not buy the lucky ducks dinner at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck pop-up in Melbourne, where the starting cost per person (excluding wine) was $525 back in 2015. Blumenthal, incidentally, has also struggled to pay his workers according to the law. But this extra government "assistance", in fact, doesn't even cover the cost of a weekly Happy Meal, which is currently $5.30.

Let them eat cake, eh, Mr Morrison? Well, probably not cake served in any establishment of the abovementioned restaurateurs.

Newstart is below the poverty line. That is all anyone with a heart or a full stomach needs to know.

If you’re just trying to "have a go" in order to put food on the table, however, don’t expect to be getting a go from this Coalition Government.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a very small sum for quality journalism and many great extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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