The Fair Work Commission has accepted a proposal by the Restaurant and Catering Association (RCA) that aims to simplify the payment of chefs. It comes in the wake of a number of underpayment scandals at fine food restaurants which the restaurant sector has blamed on the complexity of wage payment systems.
The new pay deal will see chefs given the option of being paid a flat rate of least $82,400 for up to 57 hours of work a week, in return for trading away overtime, penalty rates, and allowances.
Association CEO Wes Lambert has described the new pay scheme as “revolutionary”, and will help the sector recover from the impact of the pandemic:
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“[They] will allow tens of thousands of struggling hospitality businesses across the country to gain access to the flexibility and simplicity they need to recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Lambert said in a statement.
Why should a chef’s standard work week be 57 hours when every other industry aims for 38 to 40 hour weeks? There is absolutely no justification other than restaurant owners attempting to maintain an unfair and exploitative system.
This deal would see a fully qualified chef working 57 unsociable hours a week paid only $28 an hour. How is that satisfactory remuneration?
Changing the rules to suit a bad business model, rather than enforcing the existing rules, is a retrograde step.
To add further insult to injury, the Morrison Government recently added chefs to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL), which gives foreign chefs priority processing for migration and travel exemptions, as well as priority access to quarantine places.
Here’s a genuine question for the RCA, FWC and policy makers. If chefs are in such short supply, why aren’t they being paid more (see below table)?
What all this shows is that the ‘skilled’ visa and industrial relations systems are a farce that bare little resemblance to actual skills shortages being experienced across the economy. The systems are based first and foremost on lobbying by vested interests like the RCA.
It’s time to cut through the bull and require all work visas (other than the well-regulated Pacific Islands Seasonal Work Program) to be paid at least at the 75th percentile of earnings (preferably higher). This would equate to a minimum salary of $90,500 currently, which would rise over time with earnings:
Setting a pay floor at this level would ensure that work visas are used sparingly by Australian businesses to employ only highly skilled migrants with specialised skills, not abused by businesses as a tool for using migrant workers to undercut local workers, reducing wage costs, and eliminating the need for training.
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