Brisbane council to review prime pub leases after penalty rates controversy

<span>Photograph: Jason O’Brien/AAP</span>
Photograph: Jason O’Brien/AAP

The Brisbane city council will review its lease agreement with Mantle Group at prime CBD locations once a dispute over its controversial penalty rates deal is over.

This comes as the Mantle Group Hospitality’s head of human resources, Darren Latham, was reportedly referred to police by the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which found that he “deliberately” provided it with “false and misleading information” before they approved the company’s Hot Wok Agreement in 2021.

Mantle Group – which runs 15 venues in south-east Queensland, including Jimmy’s on the Mall in Brisbane’s CBD and the Pig ‘N’ Whistle chain – had legally avoided paying casuals penalty rates through a “zombie” agreement signed more than two decades ago.

The FWC squashed the agreement and ordered the company to pay back employees but, during the dispute, Mantle allegedly moved its staff on to another workplace deal. The company will seek to overturn the ruling.

There are growing calls for the Brisbane city council to review its commercial agreements with the company.

The Queen Street Mall permit is due to expire in November 2024.

Related: Australian hospitality giant accused of going to shocking lengths to avoid paying casuals penalty rates

A council spokesperson said the “council would review the outcomes of any legal proceedings once known against the term and conditions between council and the permit holder”.

It comes after Brisbane’s mayor, Adrian Schrinner, said in 2019 that the council would review the pub chain’s leases if allegations that it had exploited workers were proved.

Last month, the full bench of the FWC wrote in its decision that Latham had deliberately “misrepresented” information regarding the voting process and the number of employees covered by the agreement.

In a letter to the Union Workers Union and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who represented workers, the FWC general manager Murray Furlong said he had referred the matter to the Australian federal police, according to media reports.

In a statement a Mantle Group spokesperson said they “completely reject” the findings of the FWC and believe the statements against Latham “are wrong and biased”.

The director of United Workers Union, Gary Bullock, called on Schrinner to reconsider the commercial agreements granted to Mantle Group.

“It is clear that Adrian Schrinner and the Brisbane city council need to make an assessment of whether the Mantle Group are fit and proper operators of venues in such iconic locations as the Queen Street Mall, King George Square and Mount Coot-Tha,” Bullock said.

“The community expects that companies awarded contracts and leases by any level of government should do the right thing, and that if they don’t, their privileged position at the heart of our city should be withdrawn.”

The Greens’ Brisbane councillor, Jonathan Sriranganathan, said the leases should be torn up and the agreements awarded to small businesses and not-for-profit community organisations.

“These are prime locations. It doesn’t seem fair … when so many other businesses would also like to operate in those locations,” Sriranganathan said.

Labor councillor Jared Cassidy said he wants the council to consult with residents about how they want popular locations like Queen Street Mall to be utilised.

“If the people do in fact want a business to operate, perhaps we should find a tenant who doesn’t rip off their staff’s wages, like it has been reported, to increase their profits,” he said.

Cassidy called on the mayor to provide further transparency into tender processes .

Related: Workplace reforms back on agenda when parliament returns next week, Tony Burke says

“The ratepayers of Brisbane deserve to know all the facts when it comes to the financial details surrounding the city’s most prized and valued piece of real estate,” he said.

The Mantle Group’s spokesperson said the company is “confident all decisions of the Fair Work Commission will be quashed by the federal court”.

“Hot Wok has received advice from a leading barrister that the statements from the Fair Work Commission are erroneous and there is no basis to assert that Mr Latham has committed any offence or has otherwise acted inappropriately,” they said.

The spokesperson said media reports about their new enterprise agreement contain “several factual inaccuracies” and “casual workers have and will continue to be paid penalty rates”.

Schrinner has been contacted for comment.