Yep, I am an actual watcher of MasterChef. An enthusiast who switches to Channel Ten at 7.30 to watch the top-rating cooking show (soz, Leigh, catch you on iView). I’ve loved it since season two when Adam Liaw ditched his crushingly dull legal career to cook.
What I’m about to say is steeped in love for the program, born of winning a local pavlova competition when I was 12: Wage thief George Calombaris must be sacked by Endemol Shine Australia, producers of the program.
Brothers Mark and Carl Fennessy, joint chief executives of the production company, should ditch him since the discovery last week that Made Establishment (of which Calombaris was a director and is still a shareholder) was forced to pay nearly $8 million in back pay because it had incorrectly applied annualised salary arrangements.
And that's not all. Aside from a pathetic contrition payment of $200,000 the group must pay, the Fair Work Ombudsman has another condition. Calombaris must give seven speeches “in a manner that is consistent with George Calombaris' usual language and style" to advocate for industry compliance. Yes, he’s got to speak at food industry gigs like the Food & Hospitality Queensland expo in August, Fine Food Australia in Sydney this September and Melbourne's Foodpro.
How much better – more effective, bigger reach – would it be if he did that during the Master Chef Grand Finale this Tuesday before he disappears from the show forever? I bet the Grand Finale is already in the can, so here’s what MasterChef Australia should do.
The wage thief must now be forced to sing for his supper. Just before the show opens, get Calombaris on the telly, dressed in blacks, urging viewers to join their unions. Get fellow judge Gary Mehigan to set out every single breach of workers’ rights the ombudsman found. Every time a single mum didn’t get her full pay. Every time a newly arrived migrant got ripped off, all $8 million worth.
Then get Mehigan to ask the other judges and previous winners of MasterChef whether they feel ripped off by his behaviour. Because I know how the workers feel. I spoke to a bloke from Bangladesh who’s a permanent resident. He’s been a chef in Australia for 10 years and worked for Made for one. His back pay totalled $9000. That didn’t make up for the 55 hours-plus he worked for years while trying to get himself established here. I asked him if he ever watched MasterChef. Yes, he said. “But it gave me a bad feeling."
He also said that the Fair Work Ombudsman doesn’t really understand how terrible it is in hospitality. The Made group is not the only one. Which is why Channel Ten and Endemol Shine need to stand up.
Get Calombaris to tell Australian hospitality workers how to make sure they are paid properly. Tell us your food dream, George. And it better be fair payments for workers. That’d be clever cooking.
Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.
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