Rockpool not so coolie

Of all the celebrity chefs, Neil Perry is the best. I once ate a meal at Rockpool in The Rocks that was like a psychedelic drug. It began with a free shooter of blue-swimmer crab gazpacho. Three hours later I came to sitting in a park a few blocks away with some kind of ecstatic gastronomic amnesia. It was a palate pleasure machine that transported across time and space.

Little did I know who was cooking it. Domainfax:

The high-profile restaurant business fronted by celebrity chef Neil Perry is significantly underpaying key staff as they work up to 70 hours a week in harsh conditions.

…”It’s mental torture,” said one migrant chef on a temporary work visa, who asked not to be named, fearing deportation from Australia if they lost their job.

Some chefs working for the group are earning as little as half of what they should after being paid for 38 hours per week while actually working up to 15 or 20 hours of unpaid overtime.

…Many of the workers at Rockpool Dining Group are migrants, and some have been told that if they want their permanent residency application processed, they must use the company’s lawyers.

One chef at the group said their visa status made migrants vulnerable to excessive work, significant underpayment and exploitation.

They accuse their employer of dragging out their applications for permanent residency and of holding their temporary status in Australia over them.

Yes, folks, it’s moving up the value chain:

  • For years we have seen Dominos, Caltex, 7-Eleven, Woolworths and many other fast food franchises busted for rorting migrant labour.
  • The issue culminated in 2016 when the Senate Education and Employment References Committee released a scathing report entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, which documented systemic abuses of Australia’s temporary visa system for foreign workers.
  • Mid last year, ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a disturbing expose on the modern day slavery occurring across Australia.
  • Meanwhile, Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Natalie James, told Fairfax in August last year that people on visas continue to be exploited at an alarming rate, particularly those with limited English-language skills. It was also revealed that foreign workers are involved in more than three-quarters of legal cases initiated by the FWO against unscrupulous employers.
  • Then The ABC reported that Australia’s horticulture industry is at the centre of yet another migrant slave scandal, according to an Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the issue.
  • The same Parliamentary Inquiry was told by an undercover Malaysian journalist that foreign workers in Victoria were “brainwashed” and trapped in debt to keep them on farms.
  • A recent UNSW Sydney and UTS survey painted the most damning picture of all, reporting that wages theft is endemic among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants.
  • A few months ago, Fair Work warned that most of Western Sydney had become a virtual special economic zone in which two-thirds of businesses were underpaying workers, with the worst offenders being high-migrant areas.
  • Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute latest report, based on 2016 Census data, revealed that most recently arrived skilled migrants (i.e. arrived between 2011 and 2016) cannot find professional jobs, with only 24% of skilled migrants from Non-English-Speaking-Countries (who comprise 84% of the total skilled migrant intake) employed as professionals as of 2016, compared with 50% of skilled migrants from Main English-Speaking-Countries and 58% of the same aged Australian-born graduates. These results accord with a recent survey from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, which found that 53% of skilled migrants in Western Australia said they are working in lower skilled jobs than before they arrived, with underemployment also rife.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) latest Characteristics of Recent Migrants reportrevealed that migrants have generally worse labour market outcomes than the Australian born population, with recent migrants and temporary residents having an unemployment rate of 7.4% versus 5.4% for the Australian born population, and lower labour force participation (69.8%) than the Australian born population (70.2%).
  • ABC Radio recently highlighted the absurdity of Australia’s ‘skilled’ migration program in which skilled migrants have grown increasingly frustrated at not being able to gain work in Australia despite leaving their homelands to fill so-called ‘skills shortages’. As a result, they are now demanding that taxpayers provide government-sponsored internships to help skilled migrants gain local experience, and a chance to work in their chosen field.
  • In early 2018 the senate launched the”The operation and effectiveness of the Franchising Code of Conduct” owing in part to systematic abuse of migrant labour.
  • Then there is new research from the University of Sydney documenting the complete corruption of the temporary visas system, and arguing that Australia running a “de-facto low-skilled immigration policy” (also discussed here at the ABC).
  • In late June the government released new laws to combat modern slavery which, bizarrely, imposed zero punishment for enslaving coolies.

Soon I will have to starve.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


  1. reusachtigeMEMBER

    I don’t see a problem here. He is just using the system to maximise his profits. Good on him. Anyone in business who isn’t exploiting newly imported human capital is a fool. That’s what they are there for!

    • adelaide_economistMEMBER

      Sadly I have to agree. It’s clear this sort of behaviour is ‘endorsed’ with no incentive to follow the law or be ethical. Even some unions support the flood of irregular labour so what does that tell us?

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        Yeah bleeding hearts need to get over themselves. This is just the way it is now. It’s helping grow our economy nicely. To be honest, it’s about time we had a guest worker program like other powerful places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. These places thrive thanks to cheap human capital.

        I have a friend who pays a fortune here for childcare and babysitters. She should be allowed to bring in a Filo as a live-in maid/nanny for a couple of hundred a month. What’s good about this arrangement is that the maid’s family back in Manilla gets to move out of the local garbage dump and into a shack thanks to the money sent over. Everyone benefits from guest workers! Relations would be cheaper too.

      • “Relations would be cheaper too.”

        Yep, work em six days a week like in HK ….then we can have an Aussie version of “Sunday Funday”!
        Mature age bogans will be ecstatic!

    • All this human capital also needs a place to stay, which means profitable times for landlords. Importers of human capital are helping others achieve the Australian dream.

      Luckily for Australia, wise and powerful men like Gerry Harvey are lobbying the government to allow more human capital imports at half the price of expensive whiny local labor. Just last week Gerry was trying to service Australia:

      “Australia doesn’t have cheap labour. Many overseas workers would be prepared to move here for a much better life and half the money Australians earn,” he said.

      “I’ve got horse studs and it’s difficult to get staff.”

      • Sally McManus totally agrees with him!

        The ACTU logo is still on Angus Willox’s website!

      • Wino Shinyface

        Another billionaire Andrew stop slavery Forrest is very quiet about slavery in Australia for some reason

        Someone with a voice and platform needs to call him out on this

      • Many overseas workers would be prepared to move here for a much better life and half the money Australians earn

        Yes, provided that they get their lifetime Medicare, free schooling for their kids and age pensions the moment they retire.

        Bring them here on a genuine temporary basis and state that they can never get PR onshore and that time spent working on a temporary visa does not count toward PR and see how many takers you have.

        I would venture that the extent of exploitation is well known – they have the Internet in India right? If PR is available at the end of the process perhaps you just put up with this maltreatment for 2 years. The workers in the original story were not shy about identifying their real gripe: delay in getting PR.

  2. GeordieMEMBER

    It’s all the way through the value chain, but those at the top can pay to hide it better.

    Slavestralia: Helping local business compete one 457 at a time.

  3. Wino Shinyface

    same happened to Todd McKenney but his pants were around his knees and his pockets full of GHB

    • blacktwin997MEMBER

      ‘Uh hello officer, yes i was just enjoying a spot of the old break dancing when everything went black’

  4. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

    Shameful stuff.

    “some have been told that if they want their permanent residency application processed, they must use the company’s lawyers”

    These lawyers should also be held accountable for aiding and abetting these torts,…fine the $hit out of them or better yet disbar them from practicing law altogether,…fken grubs.

    • deustchedropper

      if you started holding lawyers accountable half the bar would be struck off – including judges.

      can’t have that!

      • The only “profession” you can’t sue due to malpractice. They will be held liable for nothing, and even if they were have their assets in trusts you can’t reach.

      • I think lawyers love to take down the lawyers who give them such a bad image in the first place. If there has been some coercion wrt legal representation I’m sure there are a few lawyers and judges who’d love to subject them to ‘The boot’. Afterall, Australia has a glut of law students so they’re not exactly desperate to keep bums in seats.

    • Disbarred and then what? They’d just become real estate agents. Slimier real estate agents.

    • as long as you think you can reform Labour or some other people think they can do same with Liberal there will be no change. Those parties are too big to change from the inside.
      Join a minor party and force a change.

      • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

        Far Far Far greater numbers are required to force change through a New Party, than the numbers required to force radical reform of the ALP.

  5. 70 hours per week?

    We really should have moved to a 30 hour week by now – for the same salary (in real terms) as a 38 hour week of 2005.

    In 2006 or earlier it was said that France and another nation in Europe has a 35 hour cap and right wing pricks demanded that it be lifted to 38 hours.

    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      “We really should have moved to a 30 hour week by now”

      Right there with that thinking is the reason why you are unemployed!

      We actually require a move back to a 48 hour week to increase our competitiveness to be honest…

      • Considering that for many of us that’s a 63-hour work week when commute times of 2.5 hours per day are taken into account, if you mean a 6 day work week, that’s just bloody insane, and it leaves no time for actual living.

    • 35 hours is fine if it pays your way. A 35 hour cap is less fine if you’re trying for social mobility. There are people out there earning half my annual income. They can achieve the same outcome by working twice as long.

  6. michael francis

    Won’t be long before you can hire a trailer load of cheap migrant workers from Bunnings.
    They’ll all be chained up at isle 13.

    • kiwikarynMEMBER

      Now you know why the middle class Democrats are fighting so hard to keep the immigrants. If they were all gone they wouldnt be able to go down to the local corner and pick up a couple of Latino labourers for the day, or find a Latino housekeeper, nanny, or gardener. These people have become accustomed to exploiting illegal immigrants to enhance their own standard of living and god forbid any President who tries to get in the way of that.

      • Sure – it also helps to have voting blocks of dubious legality in your pocket. That way, those poor sods will never be able to vote for anyone else. Very useful, almost as much as dead people voting. Almost.

        Plus all the bribes the drug cartels and slaver guilds pay. I mean, where else can a self respecting pedophile get their weekly pizza/pasta with walnut sauce fix!

      • In the Bush years I recall plenty of Republicans with the same attitude- this is why they won’t fine employers. They are the employers.

    • hahaha – gold.
      Why do you think Dems in US are fighting Trump for. They can’t get their cheap Mexican slaves if he manages to stop block the border.

      • Touche!
        Aside from that little slither of truth, they manage to sleep at night because they’re all for “equality”.

        It’s the thought that counts ..

    • RichardMEMBER

      Now that my friend is pure genius, I could pick them up and put them in the back of my ute, and return them at the end of the day, bloody brilliant.

  7. The dirty little secret of many (most?) Asian countries is the institutionalised ‘underclass’ of often ‘stateless’ people who underpin the economy. Government turns a blind eye to them and their interests and does so because they are the cornerstone of the ‘economic miracle’.

    Who else is going to pour concrete and weld steel all night and live in a shack on site?

    In Australia the useful idiots of the far left screech about racism and equality whilst an underclass is built up by undermining actual human rights in the guise of being ‘immigrant friendly’. They also select to ignore what it is that we are competing against and the active racism and exploitation that goes on in other nations.

    Because that would be racist.

    • With the recent free trade agreements, overseas companies are allowed to use cheaper overseas labour. This is seldom mentioned.

      Down the road from my office there is an apartment building going up, being built by Chinese developers. They appear to use 100% Chinese tradies, who work long hours.

    • Spot on!
      The Leftists have their agenda and it has mostly to do with tearing down Western Culture, “the evil Patriarchy” and engaging in the groupthink of identity politics.
      Third Wave Feminism has become an insidious cancer on society.

      • The hypocrisy is amazing. They turn a blind eye to rank gender inequality, exploitation and religio-fascism in foreign nations where it happens by the truck load – and in doing so provides ideological cover for any half smart crook who chants the right words about diversity, oppression, racism and other PC drivel. Then they apply the same virtue signalling to domestic politics while allowing our immigration policy to build something similar to what they refuse to confront overseas. In effect they help to build a bubble of unreality that they can live in whilst others are screwed over and secular values abandoned.

        No one asks why it is we should expect to lower our public values for the sake of competing in a marketplace that smells of more than rotten fish.

        This disgusting double standard is permitted largely because our media has been built upon the great tradition of the double standard needed to sell shit. Cognitive dissonance is a normal state of mind. Making claims that can’t be supported is the stuff of marketing and managing perceptions is more important than the truth – when you can make a buck.

        When ‘the news’ got mixed with marketing driven from the top we ended up with a broth of self-interest that they’d happily serve at Rockpool in The Rocks.

        From my perspective this epicurean and gastronomic orgy that hit Australia 2 decades ago is a symptom of the problem. Money spent on ego gratification based upon marketing hype, that will quickly turn to shit in reality, mirrors much about the Aussie economy.

      • Well said Clive.
        I agree 100%.
        It’s a damn disgrace and makes me think that Australia’s only hope might be some sort of Trump-like figure that the public will vote for when they have finally had enough of the two major parties and the damn Greens.
        But by then, the horse will have well and truly bolted anyway.
        Decades from now, people with any semblance of intelligence and common sense will look around and wonder; “How the hell did things get so messed up and crazy?”
        Could it be that they turn a blind eye to what is happening elsewhere (except the US) in the same way that a parasite is primarily concerned and reliant on the unfortunate host that they have attached themselves to?

    • You and your echo chamber buddies would do well to also never forget that this is encouraged by both sides of politics. Yes the ‘Left’ falls for it, but the ‘Right’ keeps it on the talking points. I don’t recall Abbott, who is often accused of being ‘far right’, with a ‘far right’ Senate ever doing anything about the topics you’re griping about.

      One side is dumb, the other malicious.

  8. DingwallMEMBER

    Are you sure it was ” blue-swimmer crab gazpacho”? Underpaid, cranky sous chefs (head, junior or otherwise) sometimes ad lib especially when stirring the “gazpacho”.
    These high end restaurants are starting to go crazy with prices though. That $120 slip of a steak comes with optional pepper, spicy chimichurri, or blue cheese sauces but, of course, these are now not free – you have to cough up (a junior sous chef’s expression, not mine) extra for that.

  9. Ronin8317MEMBER

    It doesn’t matter how much $$$ you pay, restaurant staff will always be underpaid. A few years back Per Se, the ultra (like 3000 USD for a meal for 4) expensive restaurant in New York, was caught taking the tips of the waiter as operating income.

    It’s due to the power imbalance : if a worker doesn’t like the arrangement, there are far too many willing candidates to fill the spot.

  10. Surely the easiest way to avoid being underpaid is to simply get a better job.
    Might seem seem like a strange idea but I find it actually works….. of course this is Australia so we’d best avoid finding solutions that actually work.

    • My umderstanding is that some migrant visas are tied to particular employers so you can’t just go and find work somewhere else.

  11. The reality is low-skilled workers are commodity, and competition for jobs has increased due to the immigration flood. So they are now low-priced low-skilled workers. Asides from “getting a better job” nothing will change while the floodgates remain open. That’s the sad reality.

  12. PolarBearMEMBER

    Re your experience, those poor slave chefs might have accidentally spilled some of their amphetamine in your gapacho. That’s how they stay awake!

  13. TailorTrashMEMBER

    And at the other end of the scale I visited
    Bellvue campus of Microsoft in Seattle this weekend ( my sons office ). The lunch room is something to behold
    A wall of fridges with more varieties of soft drinks than I thought existed even in America and
    a choice of teas to make The Dorchester look under stocked . The thing that got me was the sign next to the two “Infused Water “ containers ( choice of lemon or lime and pineapple ) apologising that there would be no “infused water “ for a few days due to the 4th July holiday ……..oh the humanity !!

    Amazing what pampering employees can get when they have some skills that are critical to the organisation and the organisation is in the money ..
    One would have thought chefs skills
    were critical to the restaurant organisation …of course the real lever in the relationship is the PR and what should be a gift from the Australian government and people is now corrupt beyond belief . This devaluation
    can not be good for strays in the long run .

    • Having worked for a company like that (the pampering, I have no experience with Microsoft internally) I can tell you that often the ‘pampering’ is actually far far cheaper than the alternative. They’ll splash $20,000 on an amazing looking rec area and kitchen (and Im being conservative there, some of the chairs alone cost more than a first car) but save that just on 3 employees worth of unpaid overtime..and there will be a lot more than 3 employees getting screwed.

      5 hours of overtime for 20 people could buy a lot of pizza. 1 hour of overtime for 20 people can buy a lot of pizza. Yes, Pizza is the metric here because that’s what they do. A huge spread of pizza for guys who’ve been pulling 70-80 hour weeks for a few weeks, and not a single dime of overtime for anyone.

      Arcade machines, lego, weird egg shaped chairs perfect for ‘napping’ in…look through the bullshit and be wary of those companies. A beautiful which you’d better not spend more than 5 minutes in and not more than twice a day lest you be seen as a ‘slacker’.

      I’ve heard that google’s use of an internal chef was to keep people at work. Wouldn’t surprise me. Google of course being a company that entered a pact with Apple to suppress engineer’s wages because as you say- those people are critical to the organisation. Wouldn’t want their bargaining power getting too high now would we?

  14. Come work in software engineering: 15 hours a week of unpaid overtime is the standard, especially if you’re senior.

    • In 20 years of software engineering I haven’t done a single hour of unpaid overtime. You might want to consider either the standard of your employers, or of yourself there.

      • Yeah, I’m sure all those poor schmucks working on-call and doing overtime at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are all worthless, mouth breathing halfwits. They should all go away and have a long hard think about their life choices. Thanks for your input.

    • I no longer do unpaid overtime but I feel you. I’ve seen it. Employers who make their guys code until 3am to meet an arbitrary launch date, and then tell them to be in by 9am next morning to make sure there are people on hand in case of any Production bugs. Death Marches because Project Managers can’t predict how long something will take because they’re ‘agile’ and don’t mind tacking on new requirements at the 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th hour, and god forbid a milestone date be missed- that might make the PM look bad.

      bjw is either very talented, or very lucky.