Worker back payments hit new Australian record

Worker back payments hit new Australian record

More than $532 million in underpaid wages for 384,805 workers was recovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2021–22 — three times the previous highest record from the year before and more than four times that achieved in 2019–20.

And the majority of wages recovered came from large corporate employers, who back-paid nearly $279 million to more than 267,000 employees — six times the amount returned from large corporates in the previous financial year.

In total, there were 137 new litigations in 2021–22 — 80 per cent more than the year before. This is a record number of litigations for the FWO and the first time it has filed 100 litigations in a year.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the agency’s consistent work across many years addressing underpayments in Australia’s large corporations had hit significant milestones in 2021–22.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has created an environment that expects large corporates to prioritise compliance. Combined with stronger, targeted compliance and enforcement action across all our work, the result has been another record amount of wages back in workers’ pockets,” Ms Parker said.

“All employers must prioritise putting in place systems and getting the advice they need to ensure they are paying workers their lawful entitlements. Those who are doing the wrong thing, including large corporates, are being found out — and we don’t hesitate to take enforcement action where appropriate.”

In 2021–22, the FWO took two of Australia’s largest employers to court: the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Coles Supermarkets. Both matters are still before the Federal Court.

In concluded cases, the agency secured about $2.7 million in court-ordered penalties, of which about $1.8 million were from matters involving exploited migrant workers. These workers can be vulnerable because they are often unaware of their workplace rights or can be reluctant to speak up.

The FWO entered into nine enforceable undertakings with businesses, recovering $56.4 million for workers through extensive investigations and complex calculations that uncovered the full extent of underpayments.

The workplace regulator also issued 2,345 compliance notices in 2021–22, with recoveries through these notices up 23 per cent in a year. Fair Work Inspectors also issued 492 infringement notices (total fines of $446,037).

The agency resolved 18,622 workplace disputes between workers and employers in the financial year.

Fulfilling its crucial education role, the FWO’s websites had a record 27 million visits to access its information, while frontline staff answered nearly 350,000 customer inquiries through phone and digital channels.

The FWO’s coronavirus hotline answered almost 29,000 calls from employers and employees, and dedicated coronavirus online content received more than 5.7 million page views across the year.

“Our priorities for 2022–23, in addition to ongoing pandemic recovery support, are fast food, restaurants and cafés, large corporates, the university sector, agriculture, sham contracting and contract cleaning. Anyone with concerns about their workplace rights or obligations should contact us for free advice and assistance,” Ms Parker said.

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