FWO recovers over $120 million for underpaid workers

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has reported that it has recovered a record sum of money for underpaid workers across the country in the past financial year.

The FWO’s 2019-20 Annual Report stated that about $123,461,548 was recovered for 25,583 employees, including $90 million in underpayments that were self-reported by employers, and more than $56.8 million was back-paid following extensive investigations and Enforceable Undertakings negotiated with the FWO.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker noted that significant underpayments from large corporations has been a new challenge for the FWO in the last 12 months.

“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,” 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.”

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

The FWO also issued 952 Compliance Notices in 2019-20 and recovered $7.8 million in unpaid wages. This is more than triple the number of Compliance Notices and more than seven times value of monies recovered from this tool in the previous year.

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.

The FWO resolved almost 22,000 workplace disputes between workers and businesses last financial year. The agency’s website received a record 21.8 million visits to access its information, and the Fair Work Infoline answered a record 424,255 calls.

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 web content related to the pandemic received more than 4 million page views.

Parker said the agency’s achievements showed its commitment to promote productive, cooperative and compliant workplaces, even during COVID-19.

“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,” Parker said.

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,” Parker said.

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