Restaurant giant faces possible police probe over staff treatment

The human resources manager for one of Queensland’s biggest hospitality groups, Mantle Group, is facing the prospect of a police investigation after a damning ruling against the company by the Fair Work Commission.

Jan 12, 2023, updated Jan 12, 2023
The Pig' N' Whistle cafe in Queen St Mall (Pic AAP)

The Pig' N' Whistle cafe in Queen St Mall (Pic AAP)

The Mantle Group, owned by Godfrey Mantle, runs the well-known Pig n’ Whistle and Jimmy’s venues on Queen Street Mall as well as other pubs in Brisbane and the new Babylon Restaurant in Eagle Street.

The commission delivered harsh criticism over the handling of its agreements with employees. It now faces an audit and potential a bill for significant backpay for potentially hundreds of workers, but has also said it would appeal to the Federal Court to quash the rulings on the grounds of bias.

The FWC said that documents purporting to show approval for the employment agreement were false or misleading.

“It was apparent that this was the result of deliberate conduct on the part of Mr Latham (Mantle Group’s HR manager) in that, having record to his position, knowledge and experience and his role in the process of making the “Hot Wok agreement” he knew what the true position was but chose to misrepresent or falsify this declaration.”

The declaration was known as an F17 form and the FWC relies upon it to determine whether it meets legal approval criteria. Hot Wok was the entity that paid the employees when they attempted last year to move out of the controversial Howard-era agreements, known as zombie contracts.

“We will request that the General Manager of the Commission consider whether Mr Latham’s conduct in respect of his F17 declaration in this matter should be the subject of a referral to the Federal Police,” the bench of two deputy presidents, Asbury and Gostenik, and acting president Adam Hatcher said.

“It is also necessary for us to make an adverse finding about Mr Latham’s credibility, pertaining not just to the evidence he gave before us … but also as to the veracity and candour of the information provided in the F17 declaration and his honesty in dealings with the commission more generally,” the FWC said.

In its ruling, the FWC said that staff meetings supposed to have been conducted to inform workers of the new agreement “never happened, nor did the employees meet at the Milano restaurant for the purpose of voting on June 25, 2021”.

“None of the employees who voted to approve the Hot Wok Agreement was covered by it.”

United Workers Union industrial officer Martin De Rooy said the decision was a victory for young workers and Maurice Blackburn principal Giri Sivaraman said the decision would mean workers could move onto a higher paying industry award.

“The company will now have to do a complete audit and back pay hundreds of young casual workers who were unlawfully denied penalty rates. The zombie agreement undermines the award, short changed workers and have Mantle Group and unfair competitive advantage,” Sivaraman said.

Four witnesses provided by Mantle to support the agreements were found by the commission to not be credible and could not recall details of how or when they voted to approve the pay deal, according to the FWC.

“In over 20 years of practising I have never seen the commission find all of the company’s witnesses to not be credible and to consider referring the chief of HR to the police. It’s a staggering and a sad indictment on the HR practices of the Mantle Group,” Sivaraman said

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

Mantle Group said Hot Wok would be applying to the Federal Court to have all of the decisions of the FWC quashed because of bias.
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“Hot Wok is confident that it will be successful in having these unfair and biased comments overturned,” a spokesman said.









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