Morrison stirs pot over chef's wage theft

Celebrity chef and MasterChef judge George Calombaris was fined for underpaying his staff. Source: AAP

Attorney-General Christian Porter says George Calombaris' company received a light penalty when it was fined $200,000 for underpaying workers.

Both the federal government and unions are in a stew over the 'leniency' of the fine imposed on celebrity chef George Calombaris for underpaying his workers almost $8 million.

Calombaris was last week fined $200,000 for ripping off his restaurant staff.

"I think that that fine myself is light," Attorney-General Christian Porter told ABC Radio National on Tuesday.

George Calombaris will no longer be a judge on MasterChef.
George Calombaris will no longer be a judge on MasterChef

ACTU president Michelle O'Neill said Calombaris would have earned more money on the interest that he stole from people than the amount of money he was fined.

"They didn't prosecute the company, they instead did a sweetheart deal where all they had to do was of course promise to pay the money back," she told Sky News.

Mr Porter said the government would review wage theft penalties.

"I'm open minded to submissions that there should be firmer penalties there, inclusive of potentially criminal penalties reserved for repetitious breaches," he said.

"We're going to go through a process of consultation on both sides of this argument, to determine what is the proper limitation - so at what point would you apply those criminal offences."

Network Ten was under immense pressure to sack Calombaris as a judge on the reality cooking show MasterChef after his Made Establishment was fined.

Instead, Calombaris and his two co-hosts Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan walked away from the show after pay negotiations fell through.

Network Ten chief executive Paul Anderson denied the MasterChef announcement was linked to Calombaris' troubles, saying the network had been in negotiations with the trio for months.

"The reality is that we couldn't meet the demands of the three judges," he told Ten News.

MasterChef Judges pose for portraits.
MasterChef Judges pose for portraits.

"Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George,"

The trio, who were judges on the show for 11 seasons, made their last appearance on Tuesday night's 2019 season finale, with new judges to be introduced in next year's season.

The trio had reportedly demanded a pay rise of more than 40 per cent to stay.

But in a post on Instagram on Tuesday night, Mehigan denied their departure was motivated by finances.

"It was time to move on, have more free time to explore our own creativity"," he said.

"It was never about the money and never will be about the money."

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