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Spotlight on Mantle Group as Zombie agreements come under fire

Sydney-based bartender Elijah Blatchford is taking on Brisbane hospitality king Godfrey Mantle in a penalty rates showdown that could significantly drive up the wages bill for mantle’s pub empire and open the floodgates to similar challenges.

The 21-year-old bartender who works Mantle Group Hospitality Group, is challenging a twenty-year-old agreement (known as a zombie agreement) that currently strips workers of penalty rates.

Blatchford has stated in his Fair Work application that the “current pay and conditions offered under this agreement are well below the current award rates” and would fail the “better off overall test.”

Blatchford earned a flat casual introductory rate of $24/hr with no penalty rates, loadings or overtime.

He began to question he agreement when he received no public holiday penalty rates for working Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.

It was then that he assured by a Mantle Group state manager that everything was aboveboard.

“I thought: ‘That sounds really wrong because if a company can just get away with not paying that stuff, why wouldn’t everyone be doing it?”

The Fair Work Commission application by Blatchford could have a major impact on the mantle Group and potentially industry in general, with the current agreement covering hundreds of staff, including at the group’s Queensland venues including six Pig ’N’ Whistle hotels in Queensland, Queen Street Mall institution Jimmy’s on the Mall, The Charming Squire at South Bank and several restaurants.

Blatchford is a casual worker at Mantle Group’s busy Mideast-themed Babylon rooftop restaurant and bar in Sydney’s CBD.

Mantle Group in Sydney runs Babylon and Squire’s Landing at Circular Quay, which features sweeping views over Sydney Harbour.

Exploitation claims against Mantle Group were first made to the Courier Mail in 2019. Casual staff had claimed they were being stripped of overtime and penalty rates under Mantle’s certified agreement, approved in 2000.

The Courier reported that workers were paid a minimum flat rate and “not a cent extra” for weekends, public holidays or working into the early hours.

The newspaper stated, “They were hired by Mantle Group’s hiring arm under the Staff Services Pty Ltd Certified Agreement – originally set to ‘nominally’ expire in 2002 and later extended to 2012.

“While outdated, it remains in force unless a current employee applies to the Fair Work Commission to have it terminated.”

Mantle has refuted claims its workers are underpaid and that it has done anything wrong, stating it “pays the proper wages to all staff under the workplace agreement” and had “retained and supported staff through the COVID-19 pandemic,” recording a 78 per cent retention rate since September 2020.”

It is not suggested Mr Mantle has been personally involved in any underpayments.

Hospo Voice union member Brett Callander, who is helping Mr Blatchford’s Fair Work challenge, said “If we can get any win hopefully that will be all that it takes for the union to start getting involved in other cases and that would hopefully open the flood gates.

“There’s a lot of these zombie agreements out there. Even not what is typically referred to as zombie agreements. Any agreements that have expired, even new EBAs, don’t just end. They become the new wave of zombie agreements.”

However, according to Maurice Blackburn employment law principal Giri Sivaraman it could be a difficult case, as unfair as it is, to win pitting causal workers against the company especially in a COVID climate where pay increases were unlikely.

“Employers have made money and leached off these substandard agreements for many, many years well before COVID was an issue and having had that benefit for so long it seems unfair that they would now be able to rely upon COVID to keep those agreements going.”




Irit Jackson, 22nd February 2021