The high-end restaurant business of French-born chef Guillaume Brahimi is substantially underpaying permanent staff through the excessive use of unpaid overtime, a Fairfax Mediainvestigation has found.
Leaked rosters and pay-slips from a Bistro Guillaume restaurant show chefs working as many as 60 hours a week, pushing their hourly rate well below the minimum rate of the award, the wages safety net.
For more than a decade, Brahimi ran the prestigious three-hatted Guillaume at Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House. He now has Bistro Guillaumes in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
Brahimi cooked for French president Emmanuel Macron at Bistro Guillaume in Sydney as part of Mr Macron’s official visit to Australia in May.
The underpayment – based on rosters and pay-slips from Bistro Guillaume at Crown in Melbourne – would push the hourly rate some weeks to as little as $17.50 an hour, the Fairfax Mediainvestigation has found.
It is an almost identical pattern to the workplace scandal that ensnared the much larger Rockpool Dining Group, fronted by celebrity chef Neil Perry.
Last week Rockpool Dining Group said it would return $1.6 million to staff in response to a Fairfax Media investigation that exposed its widespread underpayment of chefs.
At Bistro Guillaume, one chef, who asked not to be named, said some weeks they had worked up to 70 hours. ”It’s like hell,” the chef said.
Chefs at Bistro Guillaume are paid for a 38-hour week, despite working the long hours. No overtime or penalty rates are paid and up to 20 to 30 hours a week of the work is unpaid – a clear breach of workplace laws.
Brahimi could be “very friendly but also very tough,” the chef said. “He’s very French, he yells … everyone tenses up.”
Many of the chefs are on temporary visas, including from France, the UK and South America.
In a statement, the restaurant did not deny the excessive work hours or that some of its workforce was being underpaid.
It said it had never been its “intention” to underpay staff. Brahimi did not respond to a request for an interview.
“This matter comes as a surprise to us and we have not received any complaints from our team,” the statement said. “As a business, we care for and respect all our employees. It has never been our intention at Bistro Guillaume to not remunerate our team appropriately.”
It said if the issue had been brought to them “it would certainly have been given the highest priority and rectified”.
Brahimi, through a public relations representative, would not respond to questions whether working conditions at Bistro Guillaume restaurants in Sydney and Perth were similar to Melbourne.
The Fairfax Media investigation has obtained rosters and pay-slips from over the last year which show chefs working up to four double shifts a week.
A double shift can run from about 9am and finish at midnight or 1am the next day – a 15 or 16-hour day.
Hourly pay at Bistro Guillaume – which is above the minimum rates of the award- falls well below the legal minimum award wage once the amount of hours worked is factored in.
As a result some chefs would be underpaid hundreds of dollars a week.
The hospitality industry has a culture of long and unsociable hours, and the restaurant award allows management to “buy out” penalties and overtime for a 25 per cent higher hourly rate.
However, under the buy-out, permanent workers must still be paid more than the award overall.
It is a breach of workplace laws for an employer to require excessive unpaid overtime that pushes wages below minimum legal rates.
Lobby group Restaurant & Catering Australia recently conceded the industry had a problem that extended beyond isolated cases and was now working with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Celebrity chef George Calombaris has also been forced to re-pay workers after underpaying them, while Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde has denied reports it has underpaid its staff.
“We have made a few changes to better reflect the award,” he said. “It’s always hard in restaurants, but I believe we would be one of very few, if any, that are complying with it currently.’
In an interview with Fairfax’s Good Food earlier this year, Brahimi, 51, said he had mellowed and would tell his 21- year-old self to “think before screaming”.
Brahimi described working as an apprentice at a Parisian bistro at 14 and the often brutal working conditions. He moved to Australia at 23 and has appeared on Iron Chef Australia and MasterChef.
“It was a jungle out there, you know. To survive, you had to fight. It was a very hard environment. I suppose I was not perfect. I was terrible to work for when I was young,” he said.