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Fair Work Ombudsman releases report showing increased enforcement of employment law breaches

The Fair Work Ombudsman (‘FWO’) has recently released its annual report, demonstrating an increased presence and enforcement by Australia’s employment law watchdog.

The report details some of the FWO’s achievements over the past 12 months, noting that it achieved its highest ever penalty, which exceeded $660,000 against an employer.  The report also highlighted the recent and successful prosecution of an accounting firm that was found accessorily liable for underpayment breaches by one of its clients.

The report details some very interesting figures, headlined by statistics such as:

  • The FWO website had 16.3 million visits in 2016-17;
  • It received 385,700 calls, with the construction, retail, health care and hospitality industries featuring more prominently than other sectors;
  • It received more than 10,500 anonymous tips primarily regarding underpayment of hourly rates and non-payment of wages and penalty rates;
  • The FWO received 103,000 My account registrations, and its ‘Record My Hours’ app was downloaded 13,000 times.

Impressively, the FWO’s report also claims that in the last financial year the FWO recovered $30.6 million in wages for 17,000 employees, and extracted some $4.8 million in court ordered penalties through its prosecutions.

The FWO also claimed that it recovered nearly $5.5 million in unpaid wages through its auditing program, which was a 213% increase from the previous financial year.

The report serves as a reminder to employers that they must be mindful of their obligations under both the Fair Work Act 2009 and the modern awards, and particularly in ensuring that their remuneration arrangements are compliant.  Employees now have access to a vast array of information and tools that assist to clarify their legal entitlements.  Equally, making a complaint to the FWO has never been so easy given the ease in which the FWO’s complaint mechanisms can be accessed.

At a practical level, Aitken Legal continue to assist clients with determining the appropriate remuneration arrangements for their employees and to resolve related disputes.  The FWO continues to be active in resolving wage disputes through making contact with employers and seeking information relative to an alleged underpayment.  As a brief summary, where matters are unresolved after the exchanging of information, the FWO may engage the parties in a mediation process, with prosecution usually reserved for more deliberate and serious contraventions.

Lisa Aitken is an Accredited Specialist in Workplace Relations Law and the Managing Director of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation. www.aitkenlegal.com.au.