Justin Hemmes’ Merivale ‘cancels annual staff party’ after Fair Work wage decision

Justin Hemmes’ Merivale ‘cancels annual staff party’ after Fair Work wage decision

Billion-dollar pub empire the Merivale Group has been accused of punishing its workers by cancelling the annual staff party, seemingly in retaliation for a forced wage increase.

On Monday, the Fair Work Commission ruled that the company must start paying its 3000-strong workforce under the current hospitality award from March onwards.

For some 12 years, the Merivale Group — which owns and operates more than 70 venues across Sydney — has used a Work Choices-era agreement with lower hourly rates of pay and almost non-existent penalties for weekend and public holiday shifts.

The so-called “zombie agreement” will now be phased out, despite claims from the mega company that paying its staff under the current award would impact the “viability of business practices”.

Now, several current Merivale workers tell news.com.au they feel the decision is squarely behind the abrupt cancellation of an annual staff party due to be held next month.

The highly anticipated events, which typically take place in January or February, are seen as a reward for hard work and loyalty — particularly over the busy Christmas holidays.

Merivale proudly shares videos of the over-the-top shindigs on social media and uses them as a hook for future employees.

One furious current worker told news.com.au that word about the cancellation came on Monday, the same day the Commission released its ruling.

“The annual party has been something the staff has looked forward to for the year,” the worker said. “They’ve promised it all year.”

Two other employees confirmed the party had been scrapped but declined to comment further.

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The worker said the event was due to take place in about three weeks’ time, as it has every year since at least 2013. But at a staff meeting held on Monday, it was announced the event was not proceeding — something that blindsided everyone, the worker said.

“It felt like a temper tantrum — a spoiled brat throwing his toys. People are really unhappy.

“I think it’s a pretty sh*tty (move) when (Hemmes has) been bumping his gums about buying a $40 million private jet (last) year, then he cancels a staff party. Bah humbug.”

Last October, Mr Hemmes told The Daily Telegraph that the purchase of a Bombardier Challenger aircraft was integral to the running of his business operations.

An unnamed friend meanwhile said the high-priced toy was something the 45-year-old had always desired, to complement his multi million-dollar collection of luxury cars.

“Probably at the top of the list,” the mate said of the jet. “It just took a little while to get there.”

Mr Hemmes, who has an estimated net personal fortune of $300 million, controls his family’s hospitality empire, which is worth about $1 billion.

A woman whose son works for Merivale said that Mr Hemmes had previously boasted about spending upwards of $1 million to throw the staff soirees, but told his workers that “he does it because he appreciates” them.

His tune appears to have changed suddenly this week, and the woman said many of the staff felt it “was implied that ‘you all know why’” there would be no event this year for the first time.

The Fair Work decision followed a campaign by the union United Voice, which said some staff had been paid up to 20 per cent less than they should have.

In a submission to the Commission, Merivale said its future viability would need to be reviewed if it had to pay workers more.

“Merivale will need to consider the viability of business practices which while viable under the (enterprise bargaining agreement), may not be viable under the modern award,” human resources manager Kate Tones wrote.

The sensational claim sparked a furious social media backlash when it emerged this week.

A spokesperson for Merivale denied that a staff event had been cancelled and insisted there had been a “misunderstanding” on the part of staff who spokes to news.com.au.

This is disputed by those individuals, who claim Merivale is being deliberately misleading.

“Previously, we have held two staff events throughout the year — a staff party in January (or) February and The Merivales (staff awards) in August,” the spokesperson said.

“We now have individual Christmas celebrations, as the venues do anyway and always have, multiple functions throughout the year and the always-anticipated big end of financial year celebration party, The Merivales.”

She indicated that the absence of a staff party in 2019 for the first time in several years was simply the business “keeping things fresh”.

“Our staff are always front and centre in everything we do,” the spokesperson said.

“Nothing has changed about our staff offers and discounts and Merivale continues to offer industry leading perks to our people.”

Continue the conversation shannon.molloy@news.com.au | @sleemol

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