1,000 businesses across Australia to be audited

The Fair Work Ombudsman has begun auditing businesses across a spectrum of industries including retail, restaurant, security and manufacturing

The nationwide audit is part of a new Workplace Basics campaign, to ensure employers “have the basics right in their workplaces,” says the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).

Industries and areas of focus selected for the campaign have been informed by analysis of data obtained from FWO intelligence reports – including anonymous reports – which have identified hotspots of concern.

As part of the campaign, FWO inspectors will assist businesses in accessing a wide range of resources to help them meet their obligations to pay workers correctly and follow record-keeping and payslip laws.

Inspectors will also be checking time and wage records of randomly selected businesses across a wide range of industries including fast food, restaurant, cafes, retail, security, manufacturing, service networks and labour supply chains.

Focus will be given to sectors where large numbers of vulnerable workers such as casuals, migrants and students are employed.

However it cannot be confirmed yet whether any pharmacies will be included as part of the audit, as the campaign is still in its early stages, a FWO spokesperson told AJP.

The FWO reminds employers that there are significantly higher penalties facing non-compliant businesses under law changes passed last year to protect vulnerable workers, particularly those that relate to record-keeping.

“Failures to pay correct base hourly, penalty and overtime rates and inadequate or non-existent record-keeping and payslips are some of the breaches we consistently see from employers,” says Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah.

“If a business cannot get the basic requirements right, then there’s going to be a whole host of problems down the track for the workers and also the employer.

“We will not hesitate to take action at any time where there is evidence of serious, repeated or deliberate breaches, including the commencement of legal proceedings,” says Ms Hannah.

In a case handed down this February, three pharmacy owners were slapped with thousands in fines for underpaying their staff.

The FWO took the three partners to Federal Court, alleging the respondents had failed to pay two former employees annual leave, annual leave loading, public holiday pay and overtime entitlements during their employment.

The total underpayments were $67,306.59.

While this amount was subsequently paid during the course of the court proceedings, the Federal Judge fined the partners $15,000 each to be paid to the Commonwealth.

Changes made by the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 mean companies involved in serious contraventions now face penalties of up to $630,000 per contravention. The maximum penalties for individuals are now $126,000 per contravention.

The Act also doubled the maximum penalty for failing to keep employee records or issue pay slips to $63,000 for a company and $12,600 for an individual, and tripled the maximum penalty for knowingly making or keeping false or misleading employee records to $12,600 for an individual.

A reverse onus of proof can also now apply, meaning that employers who don’t meet record-keeping or pay slip obligations and can’t give a reasonable excuse will need to disprove allegations of underpayments made in a court.

Employers and employees can seek assistance at www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. Small businesses can opt for priority service by following the prompts. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

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