*Names have been changed.
In 2015, Australian fast food burger chain Grill’d was investigated for wage underpayment and hiring staff on outdated employment agreements.
The scrutiny came when former Melbourne Grill’d employee Kahlani Pyrah took the company to court, over allegations she was being paid below the award wage and was unfairly dismissed.
Grill’d promised to “modernise” their pay agreements, but workers fear the franchise is still hiring employees on compulsory traineeship programs that allow them to underpay workers.
The Young Workers Centre, a Melbourne organisation established to counter worker exploitation started a campaign against Grill’d to “stop the scam” of traineeships.
“Corporate avoidance and evasion of employer obligation, to young workers has reached endemic levels across Australia,” The Young Workers Centre said.
“We want Grill’d to stop using traineeships as an excuse to commit wage theft against young workers.”
“We want Grill’d to stop the scam and publicly apologise for continuing to use strategies that exploit young workers.”
The traineeship program, described as a “legal loophole” by workers, allows employers to continue underpaying their workers.
Former Adelaide Grill’d employee, *Beth, said she left the franchise in 2015 due to the high stress environment and low wages.
Despite being on a traineeship program, the employee never received formal training. At 18 she was on a traineeship wage of $11.60 an hour with no penalty rates or overtime. She never received her Cert III in hospitality or the $400 bonus, promised in an email by head office.
Email from Head Office to employee on October 21st, 2015 detailing $400 bonus promise:
“Throughout our traineeship program, trainees were told members from head office would come down to assess our work and decide whether we were eligible to secure our Cert III in hospitality and come off the traineeship program. I never saw one person from head office come down to assess us, I was also never formally trained by any manager or staff there,” Beth said.
“The work was full on. You were expected to manage the floor, cook, waitress, clean, work the till and work overtime. But you were never paid penalty rates or the proper award system because you were a trainee.”
Another former Grill’d employee *Sally who worked at an Adelaide franchise from 2014 to 2016, said she felt forced out due to a strong “bullying culture”.
“As a leader, this hugely affected my mental health and it got so bad I had to quit. So many people in the store feel ridiculously anxious, due to the high stress levels caused by owners,” Sally said.
“I was on a traineeship program from 2014 to 2016 and only received a Cert III in hospitality when I left. I was not given the promised pay out. The worst part was when the traineeship company lost everyone’s documents and we had to start training from the beginning,” she said.
*Chloe another Adelaide Grill’d employee, said if the pay was supposed to be changed as a result of the backlash in 2015, “it was definitely not reflected within our store.”
“Employees are 100 per cent paid less under the traineeship program.”
“With only 13 hours per week, money is a huge issue for me as I cannot reach my living standards on a regular basis. Additionally, the expectation to be accessible at all times, even during school hours and university exams is harassing and not good enough by the franchise owners,” she said.
Employee pay details as a trainee, at age 17 in June 2016 at $10.66 with no penalty rates:
In July 2016 the Industrial Relations Commission of South Australia minimum wage for 17 year olds was $13.51. The minimum wage for 18 year olds was $15.78.
Before the minimum wage introduction in July, Chloe was being paid $2.91 per hour under the minimum wage, not including penalty rates. That’s a weekly loss of $39.29 and an annual loss of $2,042.82 under the traineeship, based on her working 13.5 hours a week.
Chloe’s pay only increased in late 2016, after coming off the traineeship program she had been on for two years. Her pay was 36 cents above the South Australian minimum wage but she was still at a loss with no penalty rates or overtime.
Blake, a team leader at Grill’d’s Melbourne franchise in Richmond, said as far as he was aware, Grill’d was still engaged in the traineeship program.
“Grill’d still pays their employees on a traineeship program and does not pay penalty rates or overtime rates to their workers.”
In public statements, Grill’d says their mandatory training program is “the fabric of we are and what we’re about.”
Franchise owner of Norwood’s Grill’d declined to comment.