Sommelier brings Federal Court action against $400 per head Sepia restaurant

7 April 2019
A Federal Court claim has been filed alleging widespread breaches of the Fair Work Act against $400 per head Sepia restaurant and its directors Vicki Wild and Martin Benn.

The claim has been brought on behalf of Rodney Setter, Sepia’s award winning sommelier, by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers after Mr Setter was made redundant without being paid any redundancy pay.

In addition to a claim for four months redundancy pay, Mr Setter’s claim alleges that he worked close to 60 hours per week and was underpaid in breach of the restaurant industry award and the Fair Work Act. Mr Setter routinely worked 12 hour shifts.

Maurice Blackburn Employment Law Principal Josh Bornstein, who is acting for Mr Setter, said Sepia’s poor treatment of Mr Setter culminated in his redundancy when he was denied his entitlements, including redundancy pay.

“Rodney Setter was a loyal employee – he worked at Sepia as the head sommelier for close to ten years in a highly demanding role that was integral to the restaurant’s success,” Mr Bornstein said.

“Yet Rodney was treated as anything but a devoted and loyal employee by Sepia. Sepia also did not keep any records relating to Rodney’s starting and finishing times and nor did they provide him with pay slips.

“Despite regularly being required to work excessive hours, Sepia also did not pay Rodney overtime,” he said.

“With the closure of Sepia imminent in December 2018, Rodney was made an offer of conditional further employment with Lucas Group, who have collaborated with the owners of Sepia restaurant to launch a new restaurant in Melbourne.

“That offer required Rodney to relocate from Sydney to Melbourne and gave his employer complete discretion as to what role he might perform. It was also subject to a probationary period of six months, despite Rodney having been with Sepia restaurant for close to a decade.

“Sepia was obliged to pay Rodney 16 weeks’ redundancy pay given his years of service, but he has not received a cent of this.

“Sepia was once held up as the jewel in the crown of Sydney’s restaurant scene, yet its treatment of Rodney has been a source of bitter disappointment for him,” he said.

Mr Bornstein said that after years of underpayment scandals in the hospitality industry, substantial reform was necessary.

“We have seen multiple scandals, multiple prosecutions by the regulator, multiple fines and no real change of culture in the industry,” Mr Bornstein said.

“This is an industry crying out for major reform.

“Despite prosecutions by the regulator and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) the industry’s culture of underpayment is unchanged.

“Major reform is needed, including a stronger policing role for trade unions and a two pronged regulatory model involving both the FWO and trade unions would be far more effective.

“The Federal Government should legislate to require employers notify the relevant trade union of any underpayment of wages and strengthen the union’s policing role,” he said.

The Federal Court action will seek compensation and penalties against Sepia and its two directors.

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