Fair Work Ombudsman targets Melbourne retailers after complaints from casual workers

Over 200 independent retailers will have their staff and wage records examined under a Fair Work Ombudsman crackdown on unfair working conditions and wages.

The education compliance campaign, announced today, will see inspectors ensure employers are keeping the required records and providing their employees with correct information on their payslips and paperwork.

Fair Work inspectors will perform checks on randomly selected retailers in Melbourne’s central business district and the surrounding suburbs of Carlton, North Melbourne, Abbotsford, Richmond, South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and Docklands.

The Fair Work Ombudsman says the initiative has been driven by a large numbers of complaints about pay and conditions, primarily from young casual workers.

Employment and industrial relations lawyer, Peter Vitale, told SmartCompany a lack of education and easily accessible information contributes to poorly kept records and employers underpaying their staff.

“While there is information on the internet and over various info lines and employers’ associations, the only place that you get an authoritative determination is when you are prosecuted for the breach,” he says.

The campaign will work to combat employers’ lack of knowledge of requirements, by providing small businesses with a copy of the Fair Work information statement outlining how employers can resolve pay and conditions.

Vitale says both employers and employees are often unaware of the conditions that should be in place. Vitale says, for employers, this “might be blissful ignorance”.

He says Australia’s transition from a union reliant retail sector has contributed to the problems surrounding unfair conditions and pay.

“I think we have a system that has been built on a reliance on big business, big government and big union sectors and our economy no longer reflects that state,” he says.

Vitale says while campaigns like this can be effective in the short term, longer term education systems and authoritative bodies would provide much needed clarity to employers, providing them with a greater understanding of their requirements.

“I think aside from simplifying the way awards work, we really need a body which has the authority to advise small businesses ‘this is the way you are obliged to pay’ and businesses will be entitled to rely on that advice,” he says.

It is important, Vitale notes, for business owners to be taught how to use the resources available to them.

“I think we continue to see similar types of problems in a range of industries which have a significant portion of small businesses. Small businesses are typically finding it difficult to allocate the resources necessary”.

The acting Fair Work ombudsman, Michael Campbell, said in a statement the program would provide employers with the opportunity to understand workplace laws and expectations.

“It is important that businesses get it right when it comes to record-keeping, payslip obligations and minimum pay rates,” he said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s campaign aims to educate employers on how to best use free online resources available to them, including electronic payslips, time-and-wage sheets templates and tools allowing employers to determine correct pay rates.

The Fair Work Ombudsman will work with employers to ensure that problems, such as staff underpayment, are rectified.

Campbell said ensuring employers are given the correct payment is important and issues like this will be addressed.

“For example, failure to issue payslips denies employees the opportunity to check that their entitlements are being met,” he said.


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