Fair Work returns $40 million in stolen wages

By Juliano Oliveira

Over the past year, nationally about 18,000 underpaid workers managed to recover more than $40 million with the assistance of the Fair Work Ombudsman. The numbers are part of the agency’s annual report which was based on over 2800 workplace audits conducted at the time.

“Australian workplaces are changing, as are the community’s expectations of its regulators. There is now much greater community awareness about the need to uphold standards across the whole labour market”, says Sandra Parker, Fair Work Ombudsman. 

The fast-food, restaurant and cafe sectors have been leading the list of those engaging in misconduct regarding payments throughout the country. Despite comprising only 7% of the labour force, the hospitality industry has consistently had the highest number of disputes over the last five financial years.

“The hospitality industry accounts for 36% of all anonymous reports we received in the last financial year (more than three times higher than the second-highest ranked industry) and accounted for one-quarter of all our litigations. Within this industry, the highest rates of non-compliance are found in the fast food, restaurants and cafes sector,” says Ms Parker.

“Our intelligence shows that barriers to addressing non-compliance in the fast food, restaurants and cafes sector include: high business turnover due to competition and low barriers to entry; a high concentration of young, vulnerable workers, many of whom are on migrant visas; the transient nature of the workforce”.

Upon analysing anonymous reports, the agency once again saw issues in the hospitality industry, totalling 38%, followed by agriculture (11%), food manufacturing and processing (11%) and retail (7%).

The report details that migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable cohorts. They’re over-represented in our disputes, compliance and enforcement outcomes. “They are often vulnerable to exploitation because they are new to the Australian labour market, have limited knowledge about their workplace rights and entitlements, and may be experiencing language and cultural barriers”, said the Ombudsman.

Employers and employees can contact fairwork.gov.au or 13 13 94 for free workplace advice.