Staff foot the bill as hospitality giant docks wages: claims

THE hospitality powerhouse company behind Queensland's successful Pig 'N' Whistle pub chain has been accused of docking its employees' wages to cover unpaid customer bills, triggering calls from the industry's union for an investigation.

Documents seen by The Courier-Mail show staff working for the pub - part of Mantle Group Hospitality's food and drink empire, headed by Brisbane restaurant baron Godfrey Mantle - were asked to sign forms agreeing to allow their wages to be docked if "due to (their) negligence" customers did not pay their bills.

"Tills must balance to the cent. If this does not occur, all staff on shift may be required to jointly fund the shortfall from their wages," Mantle Group's Conditions of Employment document states.

Till procedures section from Pig 'N' Whistle Conditions of Employment
Till procedures section from Pig 'N' Whistle Conditions of Employment

Mr Mantle yesterday told the newspaper any such deductions from wages should not have been occurring and the company would refund any worker if they have had their wages docked.

Mantle Group Hospitality portfolio boasts more than a dozen venues and has interests spanning catering, restaurants, pubs, coffee, beer and a hospitality training college.

Brands include the British-themed Pig 'N' Whistle pub chain, Queen St outdoor dining fixture Jimmy's on the Mall, nearby eatery Milano, three Asian restaurants and a coffee brand.

Other venues include the Charming Squire brewhouse restaurant in South Brisbane and Squire's Landing overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Mr Mantle, 69, said he believed the issue was confined to one CBD Pig 'N' Whistle venue and involved small amounts.

"We will review it, and if mistakes have been made, they will be reversed," he said.

Asked why Mantle Group Hospitality's Conditions of Employment document stated wages can be docked for unpaid bills, he said: "The actual practice should be it comes out of peoples' tips and we are not resiling from that at all."

Godfrey Mantle of the Mantle Group in front of Jimmy's in the Mall.
Godfrey Mantle of the Mantle Group in front of Jimmy's in the Mall.

Industrial employment lawyer Patrick Turner, of Maurice Blackburn, said docking wages to make up for till shortfalls created a "real risk that it is running afoul of the Fair Work Act".

He said any contractual clauses allowing such deductions were arguably insufficient to not fall foul of the Act, which rules out deductions that benefit the employer and that are "unreasonable under the circumstances."

The Queensland Hotels Association has previously warned employers against the practice, saying it puts them at risk of financial penalties for potential breaches of the industry Award, which expressly prohibits the practice, and legislation.

It comes after a string of scandals over the underpayment of hospitality workers, including celebrity chef George Calombaris's hospitality empire this year backpaying $7.8 million in wages and superannuation to more than 500 current and former staff.

United Workers Union president Jo-anne Schofield called for an investigation into the deductions, saying the industry was particularly vulnerable to worker exploitation as it attracted a "young, diverse and multicultural workforce."

"It's just not on that hospitality workers on award wages are having money deducted from their pay for the till not adding up and customer walk outs," she said.

"This situation pushes wages below the award, and these underpayments warrant further investigation."

Former Pig 'N' Whistle waiter Declan Langlands, 22, said he had his pay docked multiple times while working at its Brisbane CBD Pig 'N' Whistle Riverside pub on Eagle St.

The student said his pay was docked for mistakes resulting in the full customer bill not being paid or to cover the cost of customers absconding without paying.

Mr Langlands earned $24 an hour as a casual and worked at Pig 'N' Whistle for seven months.

Declan Langlands, in front of the Pig N Whistle in Brisbane's CBD. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Declan Langlands, in front of the Pig N Whistle in Brisbane's CBD. Picture: Steve Pohlner

He and fellow waiter Rowan Elmes said they were asked in July to sign a form authorising their pay to be docked $85 each over four weeks after a customer left without paying the bill.

Mr Langlands said he was told he would have to pay for it and sign the form before leaving that day.

"They don't just do it to me. They do it to everybody," he said. "I wasn't in a position to do anything about it, so I just accepted it."

His bank statements show a shortfall of $21.25 each weekly pay cycle for four weeks - totalling $85 - compared to the sum on his pay slips, which do not detail any deductions.

The company this week offered to pay Mr Langlands an $85.05 settlement if he agreed not to pursue any legal claim or complaint, which he refused.

The same month as the $85 deduction, a manager at the same Pig 'N' Whistle venue wrote to staff about a "shocking" stocktake in which they were down $1000.

It said a manager had "made up pay deductions for everyone at $49 per person to be deducted from next weeks pay (sic)".

Mr Mantle told the newspaper the deductions did not eventuate.

Mr Langlands said he had also used his bank card to pay a customer's $51 bill after a table numbers mix-up in May, but was not asked to sign a written agreement on that occasion.

His bank statement shows a $51 payment to Pig 'N' Whistle.

Last month, he said he was told to sign another authorisation form to deduct money from his wages over a table number mix-up leaving $9.47 unpaid by a customer.

The form, seen by The Courier-Mail, states the deduction was "for a procedural error resulting in an unpaid bill."

Mr Langlands said he was offered no further shifts after refusing to sign the form that night.

He has lodged an application in the Fair Work Commission over his termination, alleging it was for refusing to agree to the deduction.

Mr Mantle has denied the allegation, saying Mr Langland's dismissal was unrelated. He also denied staff were pressured to agree to the deductions.

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