Introduction

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s 2019-20 Annual Report reveals a record sum of money recovered for underpaid workers across the country during the past financial year.

Records trending up…

In total, $123,461,548 was recovered for 25,583 employees, which included $90 million in underpayments that were self-reported by employers. More than $56.8 million was backpaid following extensive investigations and Enforceable Undertakings negotiated with the FWO.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that significant underpayments from large corporate entities had been a new challenge for the FWO over the past year and the trend continues.

“The prevalence and the scale of big corporations underpaying their workers is extremely disappointing and concerning. We have established a dedicated taskforce within the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate these matters,” Ms Parker said.

“I strongly encourage the CEOs and boards of Australia’s largest corporations to ensure they are complying with workplace laws and to advise us immediately if they identify significant underpayments.”

Going to court

The FWO had 72 matters before the courts as of 1 July 2020, in many cases alleging exploitation of vulnerable workers. There were 54 new litigations filed – more than double that of last year – and 50 per cent of those involved businesses in the fast food, restaurant and café sector.

Compliance notices

The FWO is increasing its use of enforcement tools and the agency issued 952 Compliance Notices in 2019-20, recovering $7.8 million in unpaid wages. This is more than triple the number of Compliance Notices and more than seven times the monies recovered from this tool in the previous year.

Enforceable Undertakings

In 2019-20, the FWO entered into 12 Enforceable Undertakings with businesses. Nine of these related to self-reported non-compliance from large employers. The workplace regulator secured agreement for almost $1.5 million in contrition payments from companies during the year, which has gone into the Commonwealth consolidated revenue fund.

Dispute resolutions

The FWO resolved almost 22,000 workplace disputes between workers and businesses last financial year. The agency’s website, www.fairwork.gov.au, had a record 21.8 million visits to access its information, and the Fair Work Infoline (13 13 94) answered a record 424,255 calls.

The pandemic

Ms Parker said the agency’s achievements showed its commitment to promoting productive, cooperative and compliant workplaces, including during the challenges of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, the FWO boosted resourcing for its frontline services and set up a dedicated hotline, which has answered more than 50,000 calls from employers and employees. Dedicated Coronavirus web content has received more than 4 million page views.

“Our efforts guiding businesses through the pandemic’s significant disruption to workplaces have been considerable and I am extremely proud of how the agency has responded. I encourage any affected employers and employees to contact us for free advice and assistance,” Ms Parker said.

Migrant workers

For migrant workers, the FWO secured $3 million in penalties and recovered $1.7 million in unpaid wages in 2019-20. Overall, the agency’s total court-ordered penalties for the financial year was $4.3 million, while inspectors issued 603 infringement notices (total fines of about $891,000).

“We will continue our intelligence-led, priority-driven work targeting high risk sectors and practices, protecting vulnerable workers and educating both employers and employees across Australian workplaces as they recover from the pandemic in the year ahead,” Ms Parker said.