Fair Work Ombudsman’s prioritises assistance for small-business owners

Fair Work Ombudsman

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has announced the regulator’s strategic priorities for the year ahead, with the key focus supporting workplaces as they manage the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Speaking at a roundtable meeting organised by the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), Parker emphasised the focus her office will be putting on the contract cleaning sector in the next twelve months.

“Intelligence indicates that contract cleaning is part of an industry with large proportions of migrant workers, low paid and part-time workers, who we know are at higher risk of exploitation,” Parker said. “The sector also has a significant history of non-compliance, which, combined with an expected quick recovery due to increased demand for COVID-19-safe cleaning practises, makes it a sector to monitor closely.”

Parker reaffirmed the FWO’s recognition of the crucial importance of small businesses in Australia’s post-COVID recovery and will continue providing assistance to small-business owners.

The Fair Work Ombudsman reported that during the 2020-21 period, it received more than 60,000 calls to its Small Business Helpline and over 160,000 views of its Small Business webpage and Small Business Showcase.

“Our resources are complemented by the Employer Advisory Service, which provides eligible small businesses with free, tailored, written advice about employee entitlements under the National Employment Standards and award provisions,” Parker said. “We hope the new service will give small businesses increased confidence to understand and comply with their obligations under the Fair Work Act.”

The Ombudsman added that fast food, restaurants and cafes and horticulture remain a key focus of activities in 2021-22, given the violations committed within the sector.

“The FWO continues to find high levels of non-compliance in the fast food, restaurants and café sector, with a significant number of requests for assistance from vulnerable workers in the industry,” Parker said. “The horticulture sector, which has a track record of significant non-compliance, also remains a priority with its reliance on visa holders who may be exploited and complex labour supply chains.”

Investigation of large corporate underpayments also remain a priority for the regulator.

“We are investigating more than 80 corporate sector employers for underpayments of workers,” Parker added. “We recently commenced litigation against Woolworths, where we seek to recover backpayments we allege may be owed to about 19,000 employees. We expect to take further high-level enforcement action against a range of large corporates this year, and urge them to prioritise compliance.

Compliance and enforcement activities in franchising, alongside the sham contracting unit’s work, will also continue as the FWO also vows to provide assistance to compliant businesses in need

“We are here to help with free advice on lawful obligations, while also enforcing the laws to ensure vulnerable workers – and compliant employers – are not disadvantaged by those doing the wrong thing. We will continue to consider a business’ sophistication, financial position and viability as relevant public interest factors when deciding on appropriate enforcement action in the year ahead,” Parker concluded.