Former Masterchef star George Calombaris has wept and apologised for underpaying his workers by $7.8million.
“I want to apologise to all my team, both past and present, for the effect I’ve had on them, we’ve had on them,” he told 7.30 host Leigh Sales in an interview that will air tonight.
“I’m not here to blame anyone … I take full responsibility for this. I’m sorry.”
Calombaris said the mistake was a result of having “no sophistication” in his business’s back end.
“I won’t forget that afternoon in 2017 when we sat there with my new business partners after we’d done a full audit for the business and discovered the underpayments,” Calombaris told 7.30.
“The thing about 13 years ago, you’re a young chef, 26 years of age, you want to open your first restaurant, you get together with three other partners at that point, and you open the first one, then the second one opens, the third one, the creativity is flying, the ideas are flying, the dreaming is there,” he explained.
“But the sophistication in the back end wasn’t there. There was no CEO, there was no people culture manager, there was no elite finance team like we’ve got now, that can make sure that mistake that we made will never happen again.”
The Melbourne restaurateur was ordered to pay a $200,000 “contrition payment” after a Fair Work Australia investigation concluded his business empire had underpaid 515 staff over six years.
WA Tourism dumped Calombaris as the face of its food and wine campaign following the judgement.
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said: “People should pay their employees and what they are owed and what they deserve and that’s really disappointing.
“What George Calombaris has done is terrible.”
Soon after, Network 10 announced that Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris will not return to MasterChef next year.
“Despite months of negotiation, Ten has not been able to reach commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George,” CEO Paul Anderson said.
Network Ten said the split was due to a contract dispute and it was reported the three, each on $1 million a year, had each demanded between $400,000 and $1 million extra.
The former Masterchef star is adamant he won’t be closing his restaurants.
“Right now there’s 642 team members that I absolutely adore,” he told Sales. “We aren’t closing our restaurants, we’re here. And it’s my job as their leader to keep pushing forward and keep speaking this message, not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it.”