The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has recovered a record $532 million from employers detention rights of their employees during the previous financial year – three times higher than the previous year.
Wages went to 384,805 underpaid employees in Australia who had paychecks, pensions and benefits withheld, and who were paid under their award rate.
The FWOs Annual Report published at the end of last week showed a fourfold increase in salaries recovered since the previous year.
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There were 137 new disputes filed in fiscal year 2021-22, an increase of 80% and the first time more than 100 disputes were filed with FWO in a single year.
More than half of the record sum recovered by FWO came from large corporate employers, who had to reimburse nearly $279 million to more than 267,000 employees. This figure is six times higher than the previous year.
Also in 2021-22, the FWO launched action against two of the country’s largest employers, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Coles Supermarkets, over alleged underpayments, with both cases still in Federal Court.
Migrant workers were found to have been exploited in a large number of cases.
“The agency obtained approximately $2.7 million in court-ordered fines, of which approximately $1.8 million came from cases involving exploited migrant workers,” FWO said.
“These workers may be vulnerable because they are often unaware of their rights at work or may be reluctant to speak up.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers must “put compliance first”.
“All employers must prioritize having systems in place and getting the guidance they need to ensure they are paying workers their legitimate entitlements,” she said.
“Those doing the wrong thing, including big business, are caught – and we don’t hesitate to take enforcement action where appropriate.”
Not all wages had to be recovered through legal proceedings – thousands of compliance notices were also issued by the regulator, with recoveries increasing by 23%.
It also settled 18,622 workplace disputes between workers and employers.
Many Australians have asked for advice on rights and an action plan to reclaim these benefits, with 350,000 customer inquiries by phone and digital channels, and 27 million visits to access information online.
This information includes how often an employer is legally required to provide a payslipwhat should be on this payslip and how to solve the problem, as well as detailing industry reward rates.
Where wage theft is a crime
Wage theft was criminalized in Victoria in 2020 in a bid to hold employers to account.
Under legislation that takes effect in 2021, employers who dishonestly withhold wages, pensions or other entitlements from employees could be fined up to $198,264 for individuals, $991,320 dollars for businesses and up to 10 years in prison.
Employers who make mistakes in good faith or exercise due diligence in paying wages and fees are not guilty under the laws.
In Queensland in 2020, wage theft has also been reclassified as theft under the criminal code, and now Queensland employers who deliberately underpay their workers could be jailed for up to 10 years or fined close to $1 million under new state laws.
In March of this year, a Senate report titled Systemic, sustained and shameful, found that a “vicious circle of underpayment” had broad economic repercussions and drove down wages across the board.
He said employers were using a power imbalance to disadvantage their workers, with women and First Nations people more likely to suffer.
“There is a direct link between precarious work and underpayment, reflecting the power imbalance between employers and workers, and workers’ fear of speaking out or seeking redress for fear of losing their jobs,” says The report.
He found that wage theft, including withholding pension rights, created a downward economic spiral and impacted people’s pensions, with taxpayers having to foot the bill in the form of increased pension payments. pension.
But he found the current penalties to be “not in line” with community expectations, with only civil penalties available for wage theft.