Grill’d Are Renegotiating Their Pay Rates, As Kahlani Pyrah Continues To Petition For Her Job

"We have listened."

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For the past few days, the story of 20-year-old former Grill’d employee Kahlani Pyrah has likely been flooding your Facebook feed. After advocating a pay rise for her and her colleagues that would meet the award wage outside their standing WorkChoices contract, Pyrah was fired for allegedly bullying her assistant manager. She took her experiences public with the help of Victorian hospitality union United Voice, won the support of thousands, and now Grill’d have officially responded.

“Our people are our greatest asset,” reads a statement posted on social media this afternoon. “As a decentralised, people-led, experiential business our people in our restaurants ARE our business and bring the ‘Grill’d Experience’ to life.”

Grill’d, apparently.

It goes on like this, talking about burgers and friendship for quite awhile before getting to the new stuff:

“This week Grill’d has been scrutinised over certain workplace agreements that were independently certified and approved by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 2005. Many of the claims publicised have been factually incorrect. To be clear, no one is questioning the legality of our agreements and our agreements are assessed annually to ensure ongoing legal compliance.

“However, the issues raised have challenged us in that we never want our teams to question our values, our integrity, nor to question our brand and its purpose … We have listened. As such, we are announcing our intent to renegotiate our workplace agreement with our employees, effective immediately. This change was already in our plans this financial year and as such we are now bringing this announcement forward. We want to ensure that the people that work at Grill’d today have their voices heard, rather than those that have gone before them.”

In a corresponding interview with Neil Mitchell on 3AW, Grill’d founder and Managing Director Simon Crowe said he would be reviewing “all terms and conditions” for existing employees. “I suspect there will be increases in pay,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something to be hidden from or shied away from.”

Though there are no details fleshed out yet, that statement — coupled with the ongoing public scrutiny — is promising news for those furiously sweating over hotplates right now. And, in recognition of this, United Voice have responded with their own message via Facebook, praising “the power of working people”.

However, citing the group’s initial goals of ensuring penalty rates and getting Pyrah reinstated at her old franchise location in Camberwell, they remain largely unsatisfied. As a 20-year-old, her contract guaranteed her an hourly rate of $17.52 with no weekend penalty rates as opposed to the new regular restaurant award of $18.47-$27.71 on weekends. A petition Pyrah launched on Monday now has more than 22,000 signatories calling on the organisation to reinstate her, and she’s also taken them to the Federal Court alleging she was wrongfully fired.

Moreover, a report from Fairfax’s Nick Toscano this morning has raised concerns about the treatment of young workers in similar situations all around the country. Many stores which opened before or during the WorkChoices era have been accused of taking advantage of cheap labour and wilfully keeping their staff on pay below the basic wages safety net. It’s also been alleged that Grill’d have kept people in compulsory training programs which allow them to pay cheaper wages — programs the company has defended as “imperative” in their statement today.

“Without penalty rates, employees could be more than $40 worse off on 4.5-hour weekend shifts compared to the award,” Toscano wrote.

With the results of these negotiations still a while away and Pyrah’s hearing currently adjourned, there’s no big wins or easy answers on this one. Much like higher education and federal welfare support, there are still many questions hanging over the wellbeing of young people in Australia at the moment, but at the very least it’s nice that it’s getting talked about. When I was a dumb 18-year-old working at a cafe for $10/hour cash in hand that my boss would then take an extra mystery “tax” from — definitely a much, much worse situation than Grill’d — it would have been great to be aware of this kind of thing.

And, judging by the comments on Pyrah’s petition, there are plenty of people in the same boat:

“I worked at Grill’d for two years and during this time as a 17 year old I was paid $10 an hour and as an 18 year old $12 an hour. We received no penalty rates for working until the early hours of the morning or for Sunday shifts. I’m glad someone has decided to speak out about this!”

“I was 17 when i worked at Grill’d Church St Parramatta and was earning 12.50 an hour. Most days only working 3 hour shifts. TOTAL = 37.50. 37.50?!!! NEED I SAY MORE.”

“I work at Grill’d. I am 17, and I get $11 an hour. I don’t recieve penalty rates if I work weekends, late hours or even public holidays (which I have). I love my job, but it’s not supporting me.”

You can read the full statement from Grill’d here.