The $7.8 million scandal that could see George Calombaris fired from MasterChef.

George Calombaris is one of Australia’s most famous chefs, known for his role as one of the three MasterChef judges alongside Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan.

But he is currently in hot water for not adequately paying his staff at his Made Establishment restaurants.

After an investigation by the Fair Work Obudsman found he underpaid staff by nearly $8 million dollars, there are calls for Network 10 to let go of the 40-year-old chef who has served as one of the main judges since the show’s first season in 2009.

Here is everything you need to know about the scandal that might see George Calombaris fired from MasterChef.

What did George Calombaris do?

George Calombaris is the founding shareholder of Made Establishment – a collection of Hellenic-inspired restaurants, including Hellenic Republic, Press Club and Gazi.

The company self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2017, admitting they had underpaid a significant number of their employees. They subsequently backpaid 515 current and former employees $7.83 million and a further $16,371 was backpaid to nine employees of Jimmy Grants.

On Thursday, the Fair Work Ombudsman fined Calombaris and his Made Establishment company $200,000. However Unions are disappointed by this result and have called on the federal government to address wage theft penalties.

“While anyone else would face prison time for theft of millions of dollars, employers routinely steal huge amounts from working people and get away with simply returning the money they have stolen and paying a paltry fine,” Michele O’Neil, President of Australian Council of Trade Unions, said.

Calombaris apologised for the underpayment, saying: “It is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles.”

Why did the Press Club close?


In March this year, the celebrity chef announced one of his Melbourne restaurants, Press Club, was closing down. First launched in 2006, Press Club was one of the restaurants owned by Calombaris where current and former employees had to be backpaid.

“I can’t stop crying but I know good things have to come to an end,” Calombaris wrote on social media announcing the restaurant’s closing.

“The Press Club has given me everything. Not just me but also thousands who have experienced it. The Press Club was a dream to put Hellenic ideas on the map. To love the past and to always look forward. Yes, it’s the end.

“We never stop dreaming, thinking and creating. We make mistakes. Lots of them. The Press Club will always be in my heart and soul – 12 years of memories. More than a restaurant; it’s a place that creates stories, innovation, love and life.”

He added that after the close, they will “enter an exciting phase of reinvention”.  There was no mention of the underpayment of staff in that announcement.

On the Press Club Instagram account, it states a new restaurant “Elektra” will open at the end of the month.

Will he stay on Masterchef?

Orlaith Belfrage, who worked as a waitress for Hellenic Republic for two years and is owed $2000, has started a petition to get Calombaris taken off Masterchef  and has called for criminal punishment for wage theft in Australia. It has almost reached its goal of 15,000 signatures.

“George should pay a serious price for this massive theft of workers’ wages,” she said in a statement. “A three percent fine is not enough.”

“He should be taken off MasterChef. Channel Ten should stop making excuses for this serial wage thief.”

However it appears the celebrity chef will remain on the cooking show.

Network 10 is standing by their MasterChef  judge, saying in a statement to SBS: “George and Made Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter. George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment.”

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