Embattled celebrity chef George Calombaris has suffered another blow, with a lucrative and high-profile endorsement deal being scrapped as he battles a worsening storm of anger.
The Melbourne restaurateur and MasterChef judge was last week ordered to pay a $200,000 "contrition payment" after a Fair Work Australia investigation concluded his business empire underpaid 515 staff by A$7.8 million ($8.1m) over six years.
Critics and trade unions have slammed the penalty as being inadequate and called on Network 10 to dump him from its popular reality television series.
Calombaris insists the underpayments were a mistake — not deliberate — and that almost all of those staff affected had been paid back.
But pressure is mounting on the chef, with Wester Australia Tourism today dumping him as the face of its food and wine campaign.
The body will remove social media content that Calombaris currently fronts and has ordered television advertisement be pulled, following intervention from Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, according to a report by Channel 7.
The campaign, titled Create Your Own Gourmet Escape in WA, was due to run until the end of September.
Today, Attorney-General Christian Porter described the fine as a "light penalty" and said he had an "open mind" about legislating higher minimum infringements.
"The sheer quantum of the underpayment and the period of time under which it spanned seemed to me that, as a penalty under the system, that that was a light penalty," Mr Porter told The Australian newspaper.
A petition by waiter Orlaith Belfrage, who worked at Melbourne eatery Hellenic Republic for two years and said she is still owed thousands of dollars, calls for Calombaris to be sacked by Ten.
It has been signed by more than 21,000 people and is supported by Australian Unions.
"Wage theft is a business model and George Calombaris has built his career on it, and he continues to be heralded as the 'nice guy' celebrity chef and a MasterChef judge," Ms Belfrage said.
"He should be taken off MasterChef. Channel Ten should stop making excuses for this serial wage thief."
However, Ten said it stands by Calombaris, telling The Australian that he "has the support" of the broadcaster.
"George and Made Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter,'' a spokesperson told the newspaper. "George has the support of Network 10. We will not be making any further comment."
Hospo Voice on Friday staged a protest outside the Calombaris-owned venue Gazi, sticking yellow "wage theft crime scene" tape over its entrance.
Calombaris has apologised and insisted the underpayments were accidental and that he determined to make things right.
It's a claim that Hospo Voice disputes. Ms Belfrage said Calombaris and his business remained reluctant to help dudded workers.
"It's also untrue that he has been co-operating. Workers have requested repeatedly that Calombaris hand over records so that they can recover their stolen wages and he has not provided them with the documents they need to get their money," she said.
Made Group chief executive Leigh Small said all current team members were now correctly classified and new processes and procedures had been put in place.
"All current Made team members have been correctly classified, and all entitlements verified as owing to current and past employees have been calculated and paid, with a handful of claims now being finalised," he said.
"Since changing ownership, we have introduced a new CEO, a new people and culture director and new processes and procedures to ensure we're not only complying with workplace relations laws but actively promoting a culture of employee wellbeing.
"We look forward to continuing to grow our business and providing all team members with the tools, education and environment to succeed in their careers for years to come."
In a statement, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil said the law needed to change.
"If anyone stole $7.8 million and got caught they would expect to spend a long time in prison, but when you're an employer and you steal from your workers all you have to do is pay it back," she said.