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Cartoonish villainy in the payroll dept
We’ve all worked for bosses who would install toilet paper sheet counters at work, were that technology available. Who believe all staff, suppliers and customers are the enemy, and must be shaken down for every precious penny.
This mindset comes in different grades, from Mildly Thrifty up to Cartoonish Villain.
This week, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reports some Cruella de Vil-level fuckery from Brisbane’s Mantle Group, which operates 15 bars and restaurants in Sydney and Brisbane.
David Marin-Guzman, the AFR workplace correspondent, has been doing some cracking work on the Mantle case for a while. He writes how they fired their 700-strong casual workforce the week before the Australia Day holiday. Then rehired them the next day with a different company. So they didn’t have to pay penalty rates when January 26 rolled around.
The term un-Australian has long passed into joke territory, but Mantle’s efforts here are grounds for an Australia Day Dishonours List.
Each story reveals a new level of skullduggery, a tale as murky as the Brisbane River itself.
Mantle Group has had staff on an expired pay contract dating back to 2000 which doesn’t offer penalties, despite Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for casuals being in the restaurant award for a long time.
The Fair Work Commission branded this deal “a disgrace”, and finally revoked it earlier in January. Two weeks later, Mantle pulled their firing and re-hiring caper. With a pay deal based on a small café they owned that closes at 3pm and so doesn’t attract penalty rates.
There are so many more shonky details to the Mantle saga, it’s well worth a read (some are paywalled). You know you’re deep in corporate scoundrel country when the generally boss-sympathising AFR can’t believe how scoundrelly you are:
“The Fair Work Commission is considering referring the head of human resources for hospitality giant Mantle Group to the police after finding he deliberately lied about a sham pay deal that deprived hundreds of workers of their penalty rates.”
It’s not my area, but I believe the FWC referring witnesses to the police happens with Halley’s Comet frequency. We’re talking some championship scamminess in an arena that would attract more of that than most. While you’re there check out the rigged staff vote, absolute Putinesque governance.
But will it make you money?
I’m not going to discuss the legality of treating your staff like garbage, that’s what lawyers and commissions are for. But let’s consider if it’s even good for making money, like Mantle owner Godfrey Mantle clearly loves above all else.
Godfrey Mantle. It’s one of those names Dickens would have used. For a parish workhouse operator who enjoyed cutting back gruel portions for his orphan staff.
You can complain about the government and unions all you like, but if your business model doesn’t support paying people legally, you don’t have a business model. Not in 2023. That’s tough news in sectors like convenience stores, restaurants and national airlines that have long operated on the outer fringes of pay law. And if that means we all have to pay more for a coffee, get used to it.
Finding staff remains the hardest thing at the moment. Whenever I catch up with industry friends, we swap yarns of people we know to be C-minus talent, who’ve had insane salary offers. Like offers of a 40-50% pay increase above industry norms, from businesses who fired everyone during COVID and are now in desperate rebuild mode.
Side-note if you’re an employee thinking about taking a sweet new job offer: a 15-20% pay rise is a good career progression you should be pleased with, if you’re confident you’re moving to a good place. A 40-50% raise is a Code Red danger signal. It means:
- You are going to be asked to do things so horrible that you can’t imagine them now. Make clients a solemn promise, then get forced to call them and retract it the next day. Work the morning of your own wedding. Spend three months living in a hotel room interstate while your child is doing their final-year exams. Fire your hard-working team because the boss is too cowardly. No sympathy, that’s your life from now on and you should have seen it coming.
- When the market turns, as it always does, those companies are going to be looking around for quick, easy savings. And there’s you, being paid heaps more than what you’re worth to them, a fat, past-it target. The CFO scans the office. “Let’s unload Elvis over there,” she says.
If your employer keeps changing the company that employs you, be afraid. If the business has set up a separate company solely to employ its staff, while another owns the assets and manages the business, you’re standing on a trapdoor above a shark pool.
A lawyer might be able to give you a legitimate reason for doing this, but I’ve only seen it used for the deliberate screwing of staff. Usually the company goes under, after the owners have sucked all the assets out, leaving nothing to pay staff leave, superannuation entitlements and so forth.
The hidden costs of being a wage tight-arse
If you’re a Godfrey, your staff are going be working through gritted teeth, because for whatever reason they can’t get a job elsewhere. Be assured that as soon as they can, they will. Being an employer is not a buyer’s market at the moment.
Being a massive wage tight-arse doesn’t save you as much as you think.
Staff who are happy are more productive so you get more benefit than you save. They make customers return.
If there’s constant churn, you pay through the nose in recruitment, training and the mistakes that come with too many new staff and the total loss of corporate memory.
It’s counter-productive to fight wage pressure with inflammatory tricks like these. It draws attention to you, and unions will get involved. Because you pretty much asked for it.
Declining membership means unions are looking for wins to prove their relevance. It’s like the old joke about the lion and the running shoes: if you’re known as the most shameless employer in your industry, among all your competitors you’ll be the one they’ll come for. So you can add big legal bills to the money you won’t save.
I’ve known a few business owners with the Mantle mentality. I think part of the problem is they love winning every situation. Every conflict, no matter how minor, is a chance to show what a big strong business winner they are. Staff want more money? Over my dead body. Customers want an extra wedge of lemon on their fish? Fuck those freeloaders, do they think we’re MADE OF LEMONS?
It creates a perception within the business that everyone’s your enemy and you do whatever it takes to win. And before you know it there’s your HR boss in the Fin Review in the same paragraph as the cops.
Don’t get me wrong, even when you generally love your staff, some of them will stretch your patience to snapping point. You can’t let this colour your overall approach. The problem with the Mantle mindset, and with most big-business process, is that they design systems around the worst staff and the worst customers.
When they apply it to their best staff and customers, the ones who generate most of the profit, they go elsewhere.
To businesses like yours, where you treat your staff better. Well done you.
Story update Wed Feb 1: ol HR mate has been referred to the police.
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