Hospitality group faces back pay claims

A major Queensland hospitality company faces claims for back pay after the Fair Work Commission found that it denied penalty rates and gave workers no benefit in exchange.

The commission on Thursday ruled that Mantle Group Hospitality, which owns Jimmy's on the Mall in Brisbane's Queen Street as well as five Pig N' Whistle pubs and James Squire brew houses in Brisbane, Sydney and the Gold Coast, used a vote involving five employees to deny overtime and holiday pay rates.

The vote through subsidiary Hot Wok Food Makers attempted to allow Mantle to continue using a Howard-government era WorkChoices agreement made 23 years ago to have employees give up penalty rates in exchange for additional work hours.

The commission has previously found that workers under the Hot Wok agreement had a "staggering" impact on their wages, losing between $11 and $26 an hour on some shifts and ending up worse off than under the industry award agreement.

"My observation of the agreement is that it provided no benefit to the employees at all," Commissioner Jennifer Hunt stated.

The United Workers' Union (UWU) contended that the Hot Wok agreement was not genuine as the some of the five employees were in higher-paid semi-management positions and received annual salaries rather than hourly wages.

The commission stated that it did not find any of the Mantle employees who voted for the agreement to be credible witnesses

"They all asserted a lack of capacity to recall events relevant to the making of the Hot Wok Agreement in 2021 to a degree which we consider to be, as the UWU put it, frankly incredible," the commission said.

It dismissed Mantle's application for approval of the agreement.

One employee who voted for the Hot Wok agreement said they did not read it beforehand.

The commission also accused Mantle human resources chief Darren Latham of making declarations that were "false or misleading in a number of respects, including as to the purported information sessions, the voting process and the number of employees covered by the agreement", and called for him to be referred to the Australian Federal Police.

UWU industrial officer Martin de Rooy said the commission's decision was a victory for young and brave workers who stood up to Mantle Group's wealthy owner, Godfrey Mantle.

"Young workers wrote to Mr Mantle in April 2022 demanding all zombie agreements within the group be terminated and that the union be recognised in the workplace. This decision should prompt Mantle Group to negotiate a union agreement with its workers."

A Mantle Group Hospitality spokesperson said the company would appeal.

"Hot Wok will be applying to the Federal Court to have all of the decisions of the FWC quashed because of bias. Hot Wok is confident that it will be successful in having these unfair and biased comments overturned," the spokesperson said.