Dessert chef Darren Purchese is the owner of Burch & Purchese in South Yarra. (Instagram: Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio)
Former employees of celebrity chef Darren Purchese say they were underpaid by thousands of dollars and personally intimidated by him in one-on-one chats at his upmarket Melbourne dessert shop.
Some former staff said Mr Purchese, who has appeared on MasterChef and Neighbours, required them to regularly work more than 50 hours a week for 38 hours pay at his upmarket sweet shop in South Yarra — a claim supported by rosters and payslips seen by the ABC.
The ABC has spoken to six former staff, including some who said Mr Purchese intimidated his workers by yelling at them and telling them they were replaceable, while showing them piles of resumes.
One woman, Alison Marshall, believed the long hours and workplace culture contributed to her breaking out in hives and developing shingles at the age of 25.
She is now pursuing more than $7,000 in backpay for her time working at the renowned shop, the Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, in 2016 and 2017.
Alison Marshall says she missed her grandmother’s funeral because she was too scared to ask for a day off work. (ABC: Michael Barnett)
Looking back, Ms Marshall said she doesn’t understand why she stayed.
“I didn’t see my family. I didn’t see anybody. I missed my Grandma’s funeral,” she said.
“I didn’t ask [to go to the funeral]. I just told my family I couldn’t go because I had work. She lived in a rural area so I would’ve had to have leave for a whole day. I was too scared.”
Ms Marshall says Mr Purchese was “very intimidating”.
“There were cool room chats or out-in-the-garage chats,” she said.
“Basically if you get pulled into one of those locations you know you’re in shit.”
“He would say that you’re worthless and you’re not going to find anything better, so it’s better just to stay where you are because nobody else will want to touch you if you don’t leave on good terms with me.”
Angelica said Mr Purchese told her “you know you’re replaceable”. (ABC News: Michael Barnett)
Employee told to beg for her job
Another former employee, Angelica, claimed she was owed thousands after working unpaid overtime as a pastry chef at Burch & Purchese in 2016 and 2017.
She said she often felt belittled by Mr Purchese.
“He took me up to the office one day and just showed me some resumes and said, ‘You know, you’re replaceable,'” she said.
“He actually asked me to beg for my job once and to come back the next day and tell him why I wanted to be there.”
Angelica said she stayed in the job for almost a year because she was worried Mr Purchese might try to damage her career.
“Being the public name that he was, if someone spoke up it was like there was nothing you could do about it,” she said.
She is urging other workers not to put up with intimidation or underpayment.
“Something might be great on your resume, but if it’s not good for you there’s no point,” she said.
Despite often working more than 12 hours a day, former staff said they didn’t always get a break.
“For the first about eight months I would say, we weren’t getting any breaks,” Angelica said.
“Once this all started coming into the media we were allowed an hour break, but just no phones.
“You had to ask permission to go across the road to buy lunch.”
Staff say annual top-up payments never made
Like underpaid workers at Vue de Monde, staff at Burch & Purchese who spoke to the ABC were hired on an annualised salary — where employees agrees to a yearly wage instead of being paid by the hour.
Annual salaries must be 25 per cent above the minimum rate set out in the award, to cover “reasonable” overtime, penalties and other benefits.
The salary must also be more than what staff would be entitled to if they were being paid by the hour, claiming all entitlements like overtime and penalties.
Any shortfall must be made up at the end of the financial year or when an employee left the business.
Former Burch & Purchese staff who have spoken to the ABC said no reconciliations have been made.
Union calls for tougher penalties
The Young Workers Centre is helping Alison Marshall pursue a minimum of $7,000 in backpay for her time working at Burch & Purchese.
“The award is really clear about how annualised salaries can work for people who are covered by awards,” Young Workers Centre coordinator Keelia Fitzpatrick said.
“It seems like new employers, week after week, are just ignoring the rules around annualised salary to save themselves some money.”
The Young Workers Centre is seeking criminal penalties for people who deliberately underpay their staff — a change that could see employers facing jail.
“We think that will actually change employers’ behaviour,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
“We want to change the system so that employers realise that our wage laws are not optional.
“Workers must be paid their minimum legal rates and if they’re not there will be serious consequences for the employer.”
Mr Purchese did not reply to questions from the ABC.