The Fair Work Ombudsman has announced its priorities for the year ahead, with the core focus being supporting businesses and employees as they recover from the impacts of COVID 19.
There will also be a continued effort to investigate key industries on compliance issues. These sectors include the fast food, restaurant and café and agriculture sectors, with the addition of the university sector following self reports of underpayments. This comes after evidence of poor governance and management, and lack of human resources functions and payroll time and attendance records have been discovered after investigations.
The investigation of sham contracting and non compliance reports across cleaning businesses will also continue across the 2022-23 financial year
Small businesses and their recovery from the impacts of COVID 19 will also remain a priority. The FWO have over 50000 calls to their Small Business Helpline, over 270,000 views of its Small Business webpage and Small Business Showcase in the 2021-22 financial year. They’ve provided over 1000 written responses in relation to employee entitlements under awards and the National Employment Standards. They will continue to provide small businesses with the information they need in order to remain compliant.
Fast Food, Restaurants and Cafes
Fast food, restaurant and café sector remains an area of focus, as there continues to be reports from vulnerable workers. The FWO has found high levels of non-compliance in this sector, and have received multiple requests for assistance from vulnerable workers. Their focus remains to investigate metropolitan food precincts throughout the year. There have been over 25 businesses in the café, restaurant and fast food industry investigated in 2022 so far, as announced on the FWO media release page.
The FWO will also turn it’s focus to the agriculture sector, where they will be playing a key role in education and enforcement of the recent changes to the Horticulture Award. The agriculture sector employs a large number of visa holders who tend to be at a greater risk of exploitation.
Large Corporate and University Sectors
Corporate non compliance investigation also remains a high priority this financial year. There are a number of large corporates who have self-reported their non compliance to the FWO. Some of the names in the spotlight include Woolworths Group, Commonwealth Bank and Coles, who the FWO have commenced court actions against.
In relation to university sectors, Fair Work Ombudsman Ms Sandra Parker has said “We are concerned about the allegations of long-running underpayments in many universities, with our current investigations finding trends of poor governance and management oversight, and a lack of centralised human resources functions and investment in payroll and time-recording systems. We expect to be taking high-level enforcement action against a number of universities this year, and urge all to prioritise their compliance.”
Sham contracting happens when an employer either knowingly or unknowingly engages an individual as an independent contractor, rather than an employee. This may be done so the company can avoid taxes or employee entitlements such as minimum wages, leave entitlements, worker’s compensation and superannuation obligations. The maximum penalty is $13 320 for individuals and $66 600 for corporations, per contravention.
In February 2022 the High Court delivered 2 decisions about the engagement of independent contractors, and will continue to investigate claims where employees have been incorrectly engaged as contractors. The building and construction industry will be a focus for the FWO for sham contracting claims
In the month of June 2022 alone, Fair Work announced in three separate media releases that court action had commenced against cleaning businesses. These included employees not receiving their entitlements under the relevant Modern Awards, correct casual rates of pay and penalties.
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The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.