Star chef Calombaris sorry for short pay

Celebrity chef and MasterChef judge George Calombaris has been fined for underpaying his staff.
Celebrity chef and MasterChef judge George Calombaris has been fined for underpaying his staff.

Celebrity chef George Calombaris ripped off his restaurant workers to the tune of almost $8 million, but unlike MasterChef contestants he won't face any judgment, just a "paltry" fine.

As the 40-year-old Melburnian apologised to former and current staff, the Ten Network - broadcasters of the popular reality show - declined to comment on the matter, presumably meaning Calombaris will retain his screen presence.

The Fair Work Ombudsman on Thursday fined Calombaris and his Made Establishment company $200,000.

More than $7.83m has been back-paid to 515 current or former employees of Press Club, Gazi and Hellenic Republic for work between 2011 and 2017.

A further $16,371 was back-paid to nine employees of Jimmy Grants.

As part of a court-enforceable agreement, Calombaris must implement new payroll and compliance systems across his stable of restaurants.

Unions were outraged by the reprimand and called on the federal government to address wage theft penalties.

"While anyone else would face prison time for theft of millions of dollars, employers routinely steal huge amounts from working people and get away with simply returning the money they have stolen and paying a paltry fine," ACTU President Michele O'Neil said.

Former Hellenic Republic worker Orlaith Belfrage said Calombaris has avoided proper punishment and she called for criminal punishment for wage theft in Australia.

"George should pay a serious price for this massive theft of workers' wages," she said in a statement.

"He should be taken off MasterChef. How many more excuses does George get?"

Ms Belfrage said she and fellow workers repeatedly asked for Calombaris to hand over records so they could recover their entitlements, adding that he had not been cooperative.

Calombaris apologised on Thursday.

"It is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles," he said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the enforceable undertaking commits the group to stringent measures to ensure current and future employees are paid correctly.

Calombaris also must do speaking engagements to educate the restaurant industry on the importance of complying with workplace laws.

"Made's massive back-payment bill should serve as a warning to all employers that if they don't get workplace compliance right from the beginning, they can spend years cleaning up the mess," Ms Parker said.

Fair Work inspectors investigated the Made group of companies after it self-reported underpayments.

The investigation expanded to include some restaurants operated by Jimmy Grants Pty Ltd, a company which has some common shareholders and directors with Made.

Inspectors found significant underpayments occurred because staff were wrongly classified and there were incorrect processes and failures across payroll and human resources systems.

Made group CEO, Leigh Small, said all current team members were now correctly classified and new procedures were in place.

The company must fund external auditors to check pay and conditions for workers across the group every year until 2022.

Australian Associated Press