Ombudsman confirms Grill’d under investigation

By Nick Hall | 05 Dec 2019 View comments

Just days after founder Simon Crowe issued a panicked email to partners reassuring them he had their best interests at heart, burger business Grill’d has had its worst fears realised.

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on Thursday confirmed that the restaurant chain is currently under investigation. Speaking with Inside Franchise Business, the spokesperson revealed that the watchdog was “conducting inquiries in relation to Grill’d”, however declined to comment on the nature of the investigation.

“As these inquiries are ongoing, it is not appropriate for us to comment further,” the spokesperson said.

Grill’d concerns

The latest announcement follows mounting speculation for the Aussie-born burger empire. Since reports of Crowe’s email emerged last week, social media has been flooded with opinions on what may have gone awry at Grill’d.

Twitter users describing themselves as former Grill’d employees suggested that the company’s training program was the main topic of concern. According to Grill’d, all new team members are required to undertake a 12-month traineeship to ensure consistency.

The trainees are reportedly paid below award rates until they receive qualifications, a practice that is not uncommon among retail and fast-food businesses.

A video making the rounds on social media shows Grill’d founder and managing director Simon Crowe defending the operation.

“We’re a people-led business,” he said. “We always try and do the right thing by our people, by our franchise partners and the many stakeholders in the Grill’d ecosystem.”

However, new reports from News.com.au suggest otherwise.

Traineeship scheme

A former Grill’d employee told the publication that the business failed to explain the program to her, saying only that it was compulsory and that her wage would increase upon completion. At 18 years old, the worker was reportedly only earning $14.50 per hour.

Further, the News.com.au piece went on to suggest that Grill’d received more than $7m in taxpayer subsidies for its apprenticeship program.

It’s not the first time a franchise chain has been accused of using the apprenticeship model to rort the system.

Last year, fellow burger business Hungry Jack’s came under fire from unions for its involvement in a taxpayer-funded internship scheme.

The PaTH program paid interns an extra $200 a fortnight on top of their Centrelink payments, while simultaneously paying companies $1000 for taking part. Hungry Jack’s 15-hour per week position meant interns would earn the equivalent of $6.66 per hour.

At the time, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus slammed the program, describing it as a “whopper rip-off”.

“The Liberal Government takes away our jobs and our pay,” she posted in a tweet. “These Christmas jobs (or extra hours for current Hungry Jacks employees) are replaced with $4/hour internships. And who pays? We do! They are tax funded so cost(s) this multinational nothing.”

While the PaTH internship program fell short of expectations, attention has now turned to the Grill’d traineeship program.

Grill’d partners and former employees are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the FWO investigation, with the watchdog encouraging concerned workers to contact it directly.