Franchises and small businesses have good reason to fear the unions coming after them in the wake of the controversy surrounding Grill’d’s workplace agreements, according to the head of the small business lobby.
The burger chain came under fire earlier this week after a former employee claimed she was sacked after questioning her rate of pay.
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Kahlani Pyrah, who worked at the Grill’d store in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell, is also taking the business to court and asking for her old job back with the support of hospitality union United Voice.
However, the burger chain insists that Pyrah was fired because she allegedly bullied two of her managers.
The business has since gone into damage control, yesterday saying it would immediately review its workplace arrangements in order to ensure employees were happy with their rates of pay.
But Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany he thinks what happened to Grill’d will be leaving a lot of other businesses worried about the union coming after them.
“They [the union] are quite happy to bully and attack people that don’t have the same resources or background,” Strong says.
“It does instil that fear in small businesses, but it’s the other franchises I’m more concerned about. Not many small businesses use enterprise agreements but many franchises do – they’ll be the ones scratching their heads. My fear is the union will say we’ve won that one, let’s use those same tactics on everyone else we can find.”
Strong says if there are businesses that are unsure of where they stand in the wake of what has happened to Grill’d, a good idea would be to consider joining an industry association to receive support and advice
“If you have a problem then it’s good to have someone to call and give you good advice and come and help when needed,” he says.
“I think a lot of business people think, oh I won’t use it that much… but when you do use it is worth the money. It’s like insurance and you get a lot of information from it.”
The founder of Grill’d, Simon Crowe, has said the business will be renegotiating its workplace agreements with employees in the wake of the recent court action and media scrutiny.
“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,” Crowe said in a statement.
“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, Crowe said he did not want anyone to question his business’s values and integrity.
“We are about ‘Making Burgers Good’ and that translates directly to being an employer of choice, and meeting the career and life ambitions of our people,” he said.
“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. We want to discuss and agree all terms and conditions to ensure that our people continue to love Grill’d and are proud to be part of the Grill’d family.”
Jess Walsh, the Victorian Secretary of the hospitality union United Voice, said in a statement she welcomes the recent announcement by Grill’d.
“This is a real win,” she said.
“It happened because our courageous member Kahlani Pyrah took the gutsy decision to speak out. It is now abundantly clear why she was sacked.”
Walsh said she looks forward to working with Grill’d in order to modernise its workplace agreements.
“Modernising Grill’d’s workplace arrangements is quite straightforward,” she said.
“Their staff should receive the weekend and evening rates they are entitled to under the Award. And Grill’d need to ensure that traineeships are genuine, not just a tool to pay their staff even less.”
“We also welcome the fact the Mr Crowe says he wants to ensure staff have a voice and the conditions meet their needs. If he really means that, he will ensure all Grill’d staff feel genuinely free to join United Voice and are not intimidated or victimised when they speak out.”
United Voice is also calling for the sacked employee, Kahlani Pyrah, to be reinstated.
An online petition calling for her immediate reinstatement has been signed by more than 22,000 people.