A Melbourne chef has lost her bid to be paid the same amount as her male colleagues, with the Fair Work Commission dismissing her application despite finding she deserved equal remuneration.
Elena Sabbatini applied to the Commission for an equal remuneration order under Section 302 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), in relation to her full-time employment at premium catering company Peter Rowland Group (PRG).
Ms Sabbatini contended she had performed work of equal value to that of three male chefs in her workplace, but had been paid a significantly lower salary than them during her 10 months in the role.
In a hearing in Sydney yesterday, the Commission found there was not equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value at PRG, but ruled it could not grant her application for an order because it did not meet the requirements of the Act.
The Act requires an applicant to be an employee “to whom the order will apply”, and the Commission determined this requirement could not be satisfied because Ms Sabbatini lodged her application on 15 March 2023, after her employment with PRG ended on 6 March.
Further, the Commission stated the relief Ms Sabbatini sought was back-payment, rather than prospective rectification, and Section 302 was constructed in language that “infers futurity”.
“It is difficult to read s 302 as indicative of an intention that equal remuneration orders could operate to remedy past instances of unequal remuneration,” it said.
In May 2022, Ms Sabbatini was offered full-time employment, at an annual salary of $65,000, in an annualised wage arrangement under the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2020. In January, the three other chefs, also graded at Level 6, and all male, had also been offered full-time employment pursuant to the annualised wage arrangement, but had been offered an above-award annual salary of $80,000.
The Commission stated the evidence concerning the duties of the chefs “was very generalised in nature but was nonetheless unequivocal”.
“Ms Sabbatini performed the same duties and had the same level of responsibilities as the other chefs, worked in the same environment, and performed her work to the same if not a higher standard than the other chefs,” it said.
It concluded it was clear that “gender inequality in remuneration existed”.
PRG contended the three male chefs were paid a higher salary not because their duties or performance involved a higher level of skill, training or responsibility, but rather in recognition of their length of service with PRG, with two of them having worked at the company for 20 years. It also asserted the higher salaries were paid as a “retention strategy”.
Ms Sabbatini had sought $12,500 in remuneration for the difference in wage, $2173 in missed holiday allowance, $3000 for “extreme stress and anxiety”, and “fair remuneration of unpaid overtime worked”.