Worker at Melbourne's iconic Chin Chin underpaid $9,454 in eight months

A bartender from high-end restaurant Chin Chin will go to court today to recover thousands of dollars in unpaid wages after working 14-hour days and over 50 hours a week in the latest wage theft scandal to rock Australia’s booming hospitality sector.

Multiple past and present Chin Chin staff have spoken out about its toxic workplace culture of fear, bullying and wage theft. Chin Chin staff say they are routinely expected to work between 10 and 20 hours a week of unpaid overtime.

Chin Chin, famed for its long queues and no reservations policy, is owned by hospitality king Chris Lucas. Lucas’s seven venues include newly opened Chin Chin Sydney and Melbourne’s Kisumé where set dinners start at $120 per person.

This morning bartender Sorcha Harrop, a  24-year-old woman represented by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, will submit an application to the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court to recover $9,454 in stolen wages and superannuation, earned while working at Chin Chin from October 2016 to July 2017.

The revelations come as hospitality union United Voice today releases the damning results of its inaugural Hospo Wage Theft Investigation, revealing an industry built on stealing workers’ pay, and systematic breaches of workplace laws.

The survey of 624 Victorian hospitality workers in cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs found:

  • 76% of workers paid below the Award, missing out on minimum wages and/or penalty rates for working evenings, weekends and public holidays.
  • Some reported pay of just $10 an hour, representing an underpayment of $29,298 a year for a full-time casual shift worker working Tues-Sat.
  • 35% paid cash-in-hand.
  • 51% work unpaid overtime, with many working 20+ hours a week for no pay.

Quotes attributable to Jess Walsh, United Voice Victorian Secretary:

“Melburnians are incredibly proud of our world-class food and wine culture, but this industrial-scale wage theft will leave people feeling sick to their stomachs.

“That Chin Chin has been caught out stealing thousands of dollars from their workers shows that this is an industry that rots from the head down. At the same time as they are pocketing workers’ overtime and penalty rates they are spending millions expanding their empire and building Chin Chin Sydney.”

“If workers stole from the till, they could go to jail. But when employers steal from their workers, all they have to do is pay it back. How’s that fair? The rules are broken, and hospo workers are fed up. They are speaking out and saying enough.”

Quotes attributable to Ged Kearney, ACTU President:

“Exploitation and underpayment is systemic in hospitality. Not only in the high-profile restaurants that attract this kind of attention, but across the sector. We need to change the rules to protect workers in hospitality.”

“Wage theft is a business model that’s booming under the Turnbull Government. Employers risk nothing by underpaying wages because the most they can be asked to do is pay them back.”

“The laws which were meant to protect workers are failing. We need systemic change to ensure that workers are receiving their legal entitlements.”

 Quotes attributable to Sorcha Harrop, former Chin Chin bartender:

“I worked at Chin Chin for about nine months. Chin Chin is one of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants.” 

“At Chin Chin it’s the workers and quality of service that defines this venue. But some of us are working 14 hour days and doing at least 12 hours of free labour each week.” 

“I’ve had over $9000 in wages and superannuation stolen from me in just 8 months.” 

“The Lucas group has seven venues and is about to open an eighth. It makes me sick that Chris Lucas spending millions building his empire while all this is going on.”  

FACTS ABOUT CHIN CHIN & CHRIS LUCAS

  • Chin Chin is owned by 56-year-old Melbourne restaurant king Chris Lucas.
  • Chin Chin Melbourne opened in 2011 and is famous for its Asian glam, casual elegance and a no reservations policy, with people queuing up to two hours for a table. 
  • Chris Lucas’s Lucas Group owns six restaurants across Melbourne including Chin Chin, Go Go, Hawker Hall, Baby, Kong BBQ and Kisumé.
  • In 2016 the Lucas Group launched its own beer brand Shiki, available in its restaurants and at selected retailers.
  • In May 2017 Chris Lucas opened Kisumé a premium three level Japanese restaurant in Flinders Lane, where dinner on a set menu starts from $120 pp.[1]
  • On 2 October 2017 Chris Lucas opened his seventh restaurant, Chin Chin Sydney in the famous Griffiths Teas building after $1mil refurbishment.
  • Earlier this year it was announced famed Chef Martin Benn and his partner Vicki Wild will close the three-hatted Sydney restaurant Sepia to join Lucas in his eighth restaurant: a new top-tier restaurant in Melbourne next year.[2]
  • The Lucas Group employs approximately 1000 staff, including 200 chefs.[3]
  • In 2014, Chris Lucas was reported to have sold his Toorak mansion at 14 St Georges Rd for $24mil.[4]
  • Lucas has claimed fairness is at the heart of who he is: "Geelong is where I laid my foundations for what I’m philosophically on about today – strongly working class, a real belief in a fair go.”[5]

 


[1] http://kisume.com.au/PDF/Private-Dining-and-Events-Information-Pack.pdf

[2] http://www.afr.com/brand/australias-top-restaurants/hatted-restaurant-sepia-set-to-close-its-doors-20170329-gv9mcr

[3] https://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/meet/culinary-king-chris-lucas-conquered-melbourne-dining/

[4] https://www.domain.com.au/news/david-prior-pays-almost-24-million-in-undertheradar-toorak-mansion-sale-20141220-12bg7d/

[5] https://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/meet/culinary-king-chris-lucas-conquered-melbourne-dining/