Tech & Science Grill'd burger chain accused of keeping young workers in underpaid roles through traineeships

21:16  07 december  2019
21:16  07 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a man standing in front of a window: Grill'd worker Patrick Stephenson said he had struggled to pay rent while working for the burger chain. (ABC News: Jedda Costa)© Provided by ABC Business Grill'd worker Patrick Stephenson said he had struggled to pay rent while working for the burger chain. (ABC News: Jedda Costa) Australian burger chain Grill'd has been accused of using government-subsidised traineeships to keep its young workers on low wages, despite nearly all the employees saying the training is not worthwhile.

The company is worth about $370 million and has outlets around the country.

Worker Patrick Stephenson, who said he had been a Grill'd employee for nearly two years, said he had been paid a "pitiful wage" while on a hospitality traineeship through one of the chain's Melbourne outlets.

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"I haven't progressed through the traineeship, as much as I've tried to," he said.

"To me, after the two years and after the progress that I've made, it became clear to me that Grill'd was just keeping me on the traineeship so that they didn't have to pay me the minimum award wage."

Under the company's 2015 enterprise agreement (EA), a full-time or part-time employee aged 21 or over is paid $21.75 per hour.

However, the United Workers Union (UWU), Young Workers Centre (YWC) and Grill'd employees alleged many of the workers were pressured into signing onto traineeships that cut their rate of pay by more than $3 per hour.

A school leaver on a hospitality traineeship would be paid $14.50 per hour, a rate that is bumped up to $18.50 for those on traineeships who have been out of school for three or more years.

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YWC director Felicity Sowerbutts said the traineeships were "designed to keep young workers in low pay".

A Grill'd spokeswoman said the company was "proud of our traineeship program and that our team members continually win nationally recognised customer service accolades as a result of their training".

"Our traineeship program has provided qualifications and a pathway for thousands of Australians across hospitality and other industries," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

"Over 750 employees have completed their qualifications in the last 12 months and only 31 per cent of Grill'd employees are currently trainees."

The EA was signed off by the Fair Work Commission in 2015, and the traineeship scheme is entirely legal and is used in a number of other industries.

But advocates alleged the traineeships — a Certificate III in hospitality in most states and territories — dragged on for months or even years without being completed.

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The unions pointed to a 2018 survey of 370 Grill'd workers in which 92.4 per cent of those surveyed said the traineeship had not been worthwhile for them.

Mr Stephenson, who is paid the flat rate of $18.50 on weekends and public holidays, said the traineeship had only taught him basic skills he had already learnt on the job.

"We all hate it. We don't want to be on the traineeship, it's not worth anything to us. I haven't learnt anything and we really want to come off it," he said.

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The rules of the government-subsidised traineeship state the employees must spend 20 per cent of their working hours in approved training, but the 2018 survey found about 70 per cent of workers had spent none of their working hours in official training.

The survey, done by Australian National University student group Canberra Students For Fair Wages, also workers were paid a traineeship wage for a period in 2015 when the company had no traineeship provider.

"Grill'd workers are telling us that they are not getting enough time on paid hours to complete the traineeship. They're simply being stuck on them for months and years on end," Ms Sowerbutts said.

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"They need to move off these traineeships to move onto a proper living wage."

Under the Fast Food Award — which is superseded by the Grill'd EA — a 21-year-old worker on a full-time or part-time contract would be paid $21.41 per hour and would be eligible for penalty rates in evenings and on weekends.

But Grill'd employees do not receive penalty rates, which Mr Stephenson said meant he sometimes had to borrow money from friends to pay rent.

"Sometimes it gets really hard," Mr Stephenson said.

"I love the work and I love who I work with. I don't want to leave my job, I'd rather just get paid fairly for it and be able to survive on the wage that I get."

The 2018 ANU research found 90 per cent of students surveyed said that receiving no penalty rates made it harder for them to get by.

The UWU said although the EA had been signed off by Fair Work, it would be "highly unlikely" it would pass the "better off overall test", a new benchmark used to ensure agreements are on par with industry awards.

"Grill'd's 2015 Enterprise Agreement is approved by the Fair Work Commission and is lawful, valid and compliant and was approved by 95 per cent of staff who voted and indicated they wanted greater working flexibility," the Grill'd spokeswoman said in a statement.

The 2015 agreement comes to an end later this month.

A spokeswoman for the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed the watchdog was conducting enquiries in relation to Grill'd.

"As these enquiries are ongoing, it is not appropriate for us to comment further. Any workers with concerns should contact us directly," the spokeswoman said.

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