Worker exploitation claim misleading: Barilaro

Outback Steakhouse in Fairy Meadow, where employee Kiara Robinson, 22, was enrolled in a government-subsidised traineeship. Picture: Janie Barrett

Outback Steakhouse in Fairy Meadow, where employee Kiara Robinson, 22, was enrolled in a government-subsidised traineeship. Picture: Janie Barrett

The state’s skills minister has hit back at claims the government’s Smart and Skilled reform of vocational education and training (VET) has been used to exploit young workers. 

Restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse has itself been grilled for offering workers government-subsidised hospitality traineeships that reduced their pay to half the national award rate.

Unviersity of Wollongong student Kiara Robinson, 22, was enrolled in a training program with Outback Steakhouse at Fairy Meadow in 2014.

Ms Robinson was paid $11.80 per hour, which South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said was about half the adult casual rate of $21.94 she was entitled to for serving food and alcohol (as a level 2 employee under the Restaurant Award) at the time.

In a statement, a spokesman for Skills Minister John Barilaro said Ms Robinson’s case “pre-dates the NSW government’s Smart and Skilled training framework, which was introduced on 1 January 2015”.

“The use of this 2014 example to claim Smart and Skilled is somehow being used to ‘exploit young workers’ is inaccurate and misleading and no evidence has been presented to support this claim,” he said.

“It is also important to recognise that traineeship programs comprise two distinct, and separately funded, elements – training and employment.”  

“The State subsidises the training provision while the Commonwealth funds the employer incentive.” 

The response didn’t sit well with Mr Rorris.

“We all know this story from 2014 becomes so much worse after Smart and Skilled was introduced ... as it allowed many more private training organisations and unscrupulous employers to play the system,” he said.

“What we have here is evidence of a business model … that makes the government, on behalf of the taxpayers, as an exploitation partner.” 

Mr Barilaro’s spokesman said the government had introduced more stringent quality controls in the NSW training market.

“Under Smart and Skilled, protection for students is the absolute priority, and as a result all training providers are subject to regular monitoring and review,” he said. 

“In keeping with this, we can confirm Training Services NSW has been in contact with, and is talking to, students currently engaged in traineeships with this employer to monitor their situation.”

Meanwhile, federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten praised the media and unions for being “pretty diligent … about standing up for the conditions and dealing with exploitation”.

“It is clearly a problem; there’s no doubt in my mind that the government needs to be doing a lot more,” Mr Shorten said.              

– with Anna Patty

Fair treatment of workers ‘at our core’

Outback Steakhouse says the fair treatment of all its employees is “core to the business”, amid revelations staff were signed up to hospitality traineeships that reduced their pay to half the national award rate.

Fairfax Media this week revealed the national restaurant chain asked young employees, including University of Wollongong student Kiara Robinson, to sign up for the training which turned out to be a three-year contract. 

Ms Robinson, 22, was enrolled in a training program with Outback Steakhouse at Fairy Meadow in 2014.

A spokeswoman for Outback Steakhouse confirmed some of its employees participate in training courses through a registered training organisation and Apprentice Support Australia.

“It is the responsibility of each individual employee to complete course requirements to secure qualifications,” the spokeswoman said.

“Employees remuneration is not discounted if they are enrolled in a traineeship and fully complies with Outback Steakhouse's Certified Agreement. This is lodged under Icon Restaurants Australia Pty Limited.

“Fair treatment of all employees is core to the business and Outback Steakhouse encourages employees with concerns about their pay or training to contact the company directly.”

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