The Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $148,374,054 for 69,735 underpaid workers in 2020-21 – a record sum of back-paid wages and entitlements. These recoveries detailed in the workplace regulator’s latest Annual Report are 20 per cent more than that of 2019-20 and are nearly five times the recoveries achieved in 2017-18.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that significant underpayments from large corporate entities had remained a challenge for the agency over the past year. “We’ve continued to see some of Australia’s largest companies come forward to self-disclose workplace law breaches and our investigations have found many thousands of workers have been underpaid over many years. To address this, we’ve established a Large Corporates Branch to support specialised investigations into corporate sector underpayments,” Ms Parker said. “All employers, especially large corporate entities, must place a much higher priority on investing in payroll and workplace relations systems and expertise to ensure they are paying workers their lawful entitlements.”
In 2020-21, the FWO entered into 19 Enforceable Undertakings with businesses, with 17 relating to self-reported non-compliance from large employers. More than $81.7 million was back-paid following extensive investigations and Enforceable Undertakings negotiated with the FWO. The workplace regulator also secured agreement for more than $3.16 million in contrition payments from companies during the year.
There were 76 new litigations in 2020-21, 41 per cent more than in 2019-20. The agency secured more than $2.8 million in court-ordered penalties, of which more than $2 million were in matters involving migrant workers, who can be vulnerable to workplace exploitation.
The FWO continued to increase its use of enforcement tools, issuing 2,025 Compliance Notices in 2020-21, which led to recoveries of more than $16.5 million in unpaid wages and entitlements. Fair Work Inspectors also issued 513 Infringement Notices (total fines of more than $518,000) in 2020-21.
The agency resolved 18,696 workplace disputes between workers and employers last financial year. The FWO’s website had a record 22.4 million visits to access its information, while frontline staff answered more than 423,000 customer enquiries through phone and digital channels.
Ms Parker said COVID-19 continues to have an unprecedented impact on Australian workplaces and supporting businesses through the pandemic was the FWO’s overarching priority in 2020-21. “We focused on supporting vulnerable workers, small businesses and industries hardest hit. This included ensuring the most up-to-date information and advice was available,” Ms Parker said.
The FWO’s Coronavirus hotline answered more than 46,000 calls from employers and employees and dedicated Coronavirus online content received more than 3.2 million page views. “In addition to pandemic recovery support, fast food, restaurants and cafés, large corporate underpayments, horticulture, sham contracting and franchising remain priorities for us this year. We are also focusing on the new priority area of contract cleaning. Anyone with concerns about their workplace rights or obligations should contact us for free advice and assistance,” Ms Parker said.
If you have questions about underpayments or pay rates, contact the WR team to assist, on