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Staff at luxury hotel group threatened after speaking out about exploitation

The Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains.

The Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Arindam Biswas, from Kolkata, India, who was a desk clerk at the Hydro Majestic until last month, said staff at the hotel had been threatened with legal action and fines if they spoke to the media following the publication of the Herald’s investigation on Sunday.

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“I am concerned about the staff because they are trying to threaten to counter-sue them for revealing anything else to the media,” he said. “The management has said the staff have signed a contract that says they cannot speak to the media.”

The Escarpment Group denied the claims and allegations it was “underpaying or exploiting” any of its employees or interns, including those on 407 visas. It said it was co-operating with the investigations by the Department of Home Affairs and the Fair Work Ombudsman “and believes that it has acted in accordance with the applicable industrial laws”.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has raided two Escarpment hotel sites, including one in Katoomba, but declined to comment further on its investigation. The Department of Home Affairs says it “takes any allegations of misuse of a visa or exploitation of a visa holder seriously”.

More than 23 former and current staff at the Escarpment Group contacted the Herald on Sunday and Monday to share their stories, providing more evidence of false time sheets and pay records.

The Herald has now received complaints from at least 30 former and current staff who echo each other’s complaints about being asked to sign false time sheets that show they worked 38 hours a week when their hand-written time sheets show they actually worked up to 50 hours or so. Overtime is unpaid.

The former Blue Mountains mayor Jim Angel said on Monday he had also received many similar reports.

Pay slips do not show $960 fortnightly deduction from wages for their accommodation and three meals a day. Other workers pay $250 per night for accommodation without food.

“They keep buying houses and make their workers stay there and pay $250 [without meals] and $480 per week [with meals],” one former Hydro Majestic visa worker said on Monday.

One of the Katoomba properties owned by The Escarpment Group

One of the Katoomba properties owned by The Escarpment Group Credit:Wolter Peeters

The Escarpment Group bought a nine-bedroom heritage property at the bottom of Katoomba Street for $2.25 million in 2011 and paid $1.237 million for a six-bedroom house house in Lurline Street in 2017.

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The company also owns another house in Lurline St, bought for $930,000 last year, and a four-bedroom house in Waratah Street which cost $678,000 earlier this year.

The company has two other properties in Medlow Bath – one purchased for $620,000 in 2015 and the other for $735,000 last year.

Federal Labor MP for Macquarie Susan Templeman said it was important the allegations of exploitation were properly investigated by Fair Work and the Department of Home Affairs.

“These are serious allegations and I will be watching very closely for the outcome of these investigations,” she said.

The ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, said labour migration laws are an “invitation to abuse by unscrupulous employers.”

“When people are paid below the legal minimum, forced to live where their employer chooses and made to pay exorbitant rent or face sacking and deportation, that’s extreme exploitation,” she said.

Do you know more? Contact Anna Patty: apatty@smh.com.au

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