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FWO forces big business to hand back $500m in unpaid wages

Regulation

The watchdog wants to protect vulnerable workers and promote compliance through education.

By Christine Chen 9 minute read

The FWO forced big business to hand back more than $500 million in unpaid wages last year by putting corporations and universities at the top of its hit list.

Over a quarter of a million workers received back pay after the FWO’s intervention and the total amount was only marginally eclipsed by the 2021-22 result, when a record $532 million was recovered.

Acting Fair Work ombudsman Kristen Hannah credited the results to the FWO’s focus on enforcing payroll compliance with large corporations, especially where vulnerable workers were at risk.

“The recovery of $509 million in the last financial year is a great result for the workers who have been backpaid their withheld wages, and also for the businesses that pay correctly and are no longer at a disadvantage as a result,” she said.

In June, deputy ombudsman Rachel Volzke also called out universities’ “pattern of repeated and often entrenched non-compliance” during the FWO’s submission to the Australian Universities Accord Panel.

The FWO identified both universities and large corporations as ‘strategic priorities’ in June 2022. 

It has accepted court-enforceable undertakings with three universities and sued the University of Melbourne in February over $150,000 in underpayments to casual staff. 

Similar enforceable undertakings were obtained from David Jones, Politix, Crown and Suncorp.

The FWO also made it clear that it would target the fast food, restaurant, cafe and agriculture industries in 2022-23. 

In recent months, it commenced legal proceedings against franchisors Bakers Delight Holdings and 85 Degrees Coffee.

The FWO will seek to rely on untested laws introduced after 7-Eleven’s $173m wage theft scandal to hold franchisors responsible for franchisees underpaying workers.

Its inspectors also investigated more than 190 farms and orchards over four states to monitor workplace compliance in the agricultural sector.

Ms Hannah emphasised that “prevention is better than cure”, with workplace law education a focus for the FWO.

“As a regulator … we put a huge amount of effort into our education and advice function to help ensure employers and workers have the latest accurate information they need to be compliant,” she said.

 

 

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