Merivale accused of widespread underpayment in $126m class action

Justin Hemmes’ billion-dollar hospitality empire Merivale has been hit with claims it systematically underpaid workers for years in a $126 million class action.

Employment law firm Adero is bringing an open class action on behalf of former and current employees of Merivale, who claim they were regularly ripped off.

Merivale operates about 70 venues spanning pubs, clubs, restaurants and function spaces.

The lawsuit claims that salaried employees including chefs and managers were rostered to work an average of 55 hours but only paid for a contracted 38 hours per week.

Adero is also arguing that Merivale’s employment agreement covering every worker, permanent and casual for a decade from 2009 was invalid.

“If the court agrees with our argument that the agreement shouldn’t have been used, then all Merivale hospitality workers since 2014 will be entitled to compensation,” Adero litigation coordinator Nicholas Dwyer told news.com.au.

Adero currently has 235 current and former staff members registered. But the number of claims could be as high as 8000 workers over a six-year period with each entitled to between $3400 and $10,900 per annum, excluding any penalties that might be imposed by the court, according to Dwyer.

Merivale has denied all the allegations and said it “regularly reviews its compliance regarding employee entitlements”.

“Merivale has always acted with the interests of its workforce squarely in mind and does not anticipate that its employees will in any way benefit from these proceedings,” a Merivale spokesperson said.

“Nevertheless, if necessary, Merivale will vigorously defend any claim.”