Opinion

Grill’d working conditions again under fire

By Alex Mitchell

Burger chain Grill’d has never opened a store in Shepparton — and for a variety of reasons, the entire community should be thankful this is so.

As was revealed in outstanding reports by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald journalist Adele Ferguson across the weekend, the fast-food giant has — for years — put employees through government-subsidised Certificate III hospitality courses, meaning burger-flippers looking to financially support themselves through their youth are paid as trainees.

It is not hard to see why: a 21-year-old trainee working on a Saturday would be paid $18.50 per hour, compared with a non-trainee’s $21.75 per the organisation's enterprise bargaining agreement.

But the Fast Food Industry Award, something Grill’d has never made any secrets about disregarding, would pay a worker in those conditions an extra $7.49 per hour.

Extrapolate this across seven days a week and staff at 137 restaurants nation-wide, and we’re looking at millions of dollars.

The Grill’d enterprise bargaining agreement does not have penalty rates for weekends, public holidays and working past 9 pm, all purely to drive up the bottom-line of a huge company owned by Simon Crowe, whose net worth is estimated at more than $450 million.

I should know; I worked at Grill’d’s Malvern and Windsor stores for about three years between 2013 and 2016, and voted against the proposed EBA in 2015 when the organisation sought to renegotiate.

It should be noted it only entered into those EBA negotiations after The Age initially exposed these dodgy and shameful working conditions — and yet a small hourly pay increase was enough for my co-workers to overwhelmingly support the new deal.

The traineeships remained part of the deal, and it is fair to say management did not exactly fast-track your path through the course, instead dragging them out as long as possible to retain the right to pay those workers less.

My traineeship took more than two years, and while a petition in 2016 secured a promise they would no longer take more than 18 months, why fast food staff need that sort of training at all is baffling.

It is hard to find the words why Grill’d’s practices are so anger-inducing, but the way in which the organisation seems to view its employees as a commodity instead of human beings, and wages as a burden instead of something that has been hard-earned, is probably a good place to start.

As a fast food restaurant, its employees tended to be aged between 16 and 25, and perhaps this is why Grill’d decision-makers find it so easy to treat their labour-force like dirt — this is not an age where, typically, you are informed about things like EBAs, workers’ rights and the ability to utilise your union.

People would ask me why I didn’t just quit — and perhaps laziness surrounding finding a new job had something to do with it — but people at that age are looking to leave home, save money for holidays or perhaps pay their rent as they study at university, meaning going weeks or months without an income is not a viable option.

Sweating over a hot grill, working long hours well into the night for little money is a great way to make friends and bond over a common hatred of your job; in the end, great friendships are a solid way to desensitise yourself to truly shabby working conditions.

When I read about the thousands of staff still being exploited by this organisation, I see myself in their position and immediately get worked up.

So why should you be glad Grill’d has never set up camp in Shepparton?

The over-priced burgers aren’t that good, and hundreds of young adults have been spared from exploitation.