FWO unveils priorities for the new financial year

Fair Work Ombudsman

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has announced the regulator’s strategic priorities for the upcoming financial year 2022-23. The FWO has identified the universities sector as a new compliance and enforcement priority after regular self-reports from universities of significant underpayments, including to casual workers.

“We are concerned about the allegations of long-running underpayments in many universities, with our current investigations finding trends of poor governance and management oversight, and a lack of centralised human resources functions and investment in payroll and time-recording systems,” Parker said. “We expect to be taking high-level enforcement action against a number of universities this year, and urge all to prioritise their compliance.”

The fastfood, restaurants and cafes and agriculture sectors remain as key focus industries for2022-23.

“The FWO continues to find high levels of non-compliance in the fast food, restaurants and cafe sector, with many requests for assistance coming from vulnerable workers,” Parker added. “That is why we will continue to undertake proactive investigations in metropolitan food precincts across the year.

“The agriculture sector is a priority given its reliance on visa holders, who can be at greater risk of exploitation, and its often complex labour supply chains. The Fair Work Ombudsman will also be playing a key role in both education and enforcement of the recent Horticulture Award changes.”

Parker also emphasised that investigating large corporate underpayments remained a priority for the regulator.

“We are currently investigating about 50 large corporates that have self-reported non-compliance,” Parker said. “Since mid-2021, we have commenced court actions against Woolworths Group, Commonwealth Bank and Coles which are ongoing, and we expect to take further high-level enforcement action against a range of large corporates this year.”

As in previous years as well, the FWO will also focus on supporting workers and businesses as they recover from the impacts of COVID-19. It was noted that in 2021-22, the Ombudsman has answered more than 50,000 calls to its Small Business Helpline and had over 270,000 views of its Small Business webpage and Small Business Showcase.

“Our targeted small business resources have been complemented by the Employer Advisory Service, which in 2021-22 has provided more than 1000 tailored written advices to eligible small businesses in relation to employee entitlements under the National Employment Standards and award provisions,” Parker explained. “Small businesses have faced many workplace challenges in the last two years and we will continue to provide them with the information they need to meet their Fair Work Act obligations.”