Hard Rock staff seek withheld pay

Jing'an arbitration commission has started investigating a case filed by 34 employees of Hard Rock Cafe who say the restaurant withheld wages totaling almost 1 million yuan.

The arbitration commission of Jing’an District has started investigating a case filed by 34 employees of Hard Rock Cafe who say the restaurant withheld wages totaling almost 1 million yuan (US$146,000), officials announced yesterday.

Hard Rock Cafe on Maoming Road N. shut on July 28 and has since remained closed. Employees who arrived for the early shift that day say they were told to go home as they prepared to start work.

The Maoming Road branch was Hard Rock’s only location in Shanghai. Another branch of the famed music-themed eatery in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, also closed on the same day last month.

According to an employee known as Catherine, Hard Rock told her “to stay home, have some rest” on the day of its closing.

Shocked by this short notice, Catherine told Shanghai Daily: “there were people booked for tables on July 28, and turnover from the day before was at least 50,000 yuan.”

Catherine explained that Hard Rock’s regional manager, John, whose real name is Chung-Hon Lin from Taiwan, told the employees that he “would do his best” to handle the sudden closure and provide wages for employees like her.

“We were counting on John,” said Catherine. “But it turned out we put our faith in the wrong man.”

On August 1, Lin told restaurant staff in a WeChat group that he had talked to the man who owns the branches on Maoming Road and in Hangzhou. This owner allegedly told Lin that “no new investment” would be forthcoming and so “payroll is unlikely.”

Shanghai Daily saw screenshots of the group’s message history.

Following these messages, Lin left the group chat and several employees say they have been unable to contact their former manager.

Another manager at the cafe known as Jimmy, said he believes Lin has already fled the country.

“He had no working visa,” said Jimmy. “We tried to inform the police, but we didn’t have enough evidence.”

Some employees who had Lin’s address tried to pay him a visit, but no one was there.

Shanghai Daily dialled a phone number said to belong to Lin but got no answer.

A supplier to Hard Rock surnamed Shen told Shanghai Daily that the owner still owed him some 900,000 yuan for rock-themed clothes.

Shen said his company has been a supplier to Hard Rock Cafe locations in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu, as well as branches in Southeast Asia.

“I understand that revenue at the cafes was not so good,” said Shen. “But they ordered more than 100,000 yuan worth of clothes from me just a week before shutting down.”

According to Catherine, rent for the restaurants in Hangzhou and Shanghai totaled about 1 million yuan per month.

“But obviously the business couldn’t cover this; let alone the cost of clothing, publicity, electricity and water,” said Catherine.

Shanghai Daily reached out to the US-based legal department of Hard Rock for comment on recent events in Shanghai, but representatives from company did not respond by press time.

Another former employee of Hard Rock known as Minty said she resigned from the cafe about a month ago, but her former employer still owes her 10 days’ worth of wages. 

She doesn’t expect to see this money any time soon.

According to Minty’s understanding, arbitrators in Hangzhou will open a similar case against Hard Rock and its local owner. 

The arbitration commission in Jing’an refused to comment on the case.

Ge Zhihao, a lawyer from Beijing Guantao Law Firm, said it can be difficult for employees to defend their rights in cases like this.

“Whether they can get their money depends on how many actual assets the company has left, and whether the shareholders have joint ... obligations to compensate for employees’ losses,” Ge said.

Hard Rock employees interviewed by Shanghai Daily asked to identified by pseudonyms to protect their identities.

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