Rockpool Protest
Rockpool Protest

‘Smile incentive’: Rockpool faces new allegations by staff

Disgruntled Rockpool Dining Group staff have made fresh allegations of questionable conduct saying they were forced to work after clocking off and given a "smile incentive" that saw miserable staff grinning broadly for fear of losing shifts.

It comes ahead of a march through Sydney by a hospitality union seeking to prosecute the illustrious dining chain.

The Rockpool brand, which was made famous by founder and ambassador Neil Perry, was rocked last week by allegations of wage theft.

Hospitality union United Voice partnered with law firm Maurice Blackburn to lodge a formal complaint about Rockpool Dining Group with the Fair Work Ombudsman on behalf of allegedly mistreated staff.

Protesters in Melbourne on Tuesday. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Protesters in Melbourne on Tuesday. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

There is no allegation Mr Perry, who only remains in the business as brand ambassador, was involved in any wrongdoing.

The union, through its hospitality arm Hospo Voice, alleges workers across many of the group's 80-odd establishments had their timesheets altered by managers or those higher up the chain.

The union alleges Rockpool was trying to conceal hours of unpaid or underpaid work and destroy evidence to stop future claims.

Rockpool, last week, said the allegations have been made in the media "without any substantiation".

Neil Perry.
Neil Perry.

"RDG has no evidence to substantiate claims of group wide manipulation or destruction of data in order to intentionally underpay employees," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

One waitress said she and her colleagues were worried about their jobs and shifts but would walk around the restaurant reminding each other to keep smiling.

"Everyone was pretty much scared and every time we'd walk past each other we'd get reminded to smile," she said.

"Like showing a fake smile or laugh every time we walk past."

The waitress said she started losing shifts and, one month later, was let go.

Rockpool said the smile incentive was not a company policy but the choice of one manager.

"It's not an initiative that was widespread or encouraged and we will provide feedback accordingly," a spokeswoman said.

"Shifts were not reduced because of this."

A bartender named Jackson, who briefly worked the bar at El Camino Cantina in the Rocks, told The Daily Telegraph he was asked to "clock off" and keep working during his first ever shift.

Jackson said he was partnered with another girl, who had only worked a few shifts herself, and told to close the bar on a busy Saturday night while two managers "bitched" about how slow they were.

"(One manager) just kept telling us 'hurry up, hurry up,' because he couldn't leave until we clocked off," Jackson said.

"They kept pestering us, saying it was too much in wages. Finally they dragged us to the system and we clocked off."

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney.

The inexperienced pair worked for a further two hours until the bar was closed, Jackson said.

"The only reason we worked for free was I waited three weeks to get shifts from this place, I was not going to lose my job after one shift - I needed the money," he said.

The bartender complained to a higher up who rectified his pay, screenshots from a conversation between the pair show.

But the screenshots show the manager telling Jackson to look elsewhere for work, citing issues with his availability.

Jackson contends he was upfront with his availability throughout the hiring process.

Rockpool declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations but said it would investigate the matter "thoroughly".

"Rockpool Dining Group takes these allegations very seriously," the spokeswoman said.

"We have clear policies in place regarding the accurate recording of hours."

It also directed employees to a hotline for concerns.

The union, on Tuesday, rallied members to march against RGD in Melbourne.

They will do the same again in Sydney today to call for prosecution and action from the ombudsman.

The hospitality industry's "young, diverse, casual and multicultural workforce" has been targeted by "predatory" employers, United Voice's national secretary Jo-Anne Schofield said.

"To be threatened with losing shifts for not smiling enough just shows the culture of fear and precariousness too many hospitality workers are finding themselves caught in."

"Casual shifts and high workforce turnover encourages employers to expect little resistance and questioning of such terms and conditions."