Queensland couple fined $56,000 for underpaying real estate staff

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James has singled out Queensland’s real estate industry in a bid to improve compliance with workplace laws. After the operators of a Queensland real estate agency were fined for underpaying employees, the Ombudsman’s office has called upon large real estate brands and employer organisations to help drive behavioural change in the state’s industry.

In a 2011 audit of 156 Queensland real estate employers, the Fair Work Ombudsman found that less than half were lodging staff pay agreements. After a follow up campaign the next year, the office audited 279 employers, of which 82% complied with the requirement to lodge agreements with the Property Industry Registry.

Though James is encouraged by the improvement, she says that Fair Work inspectors have made some “disturbing findings”, including instances of employers failing to meet minimum payment entitlements for commission-based staff.

Earlier this week, the former operators of a Gold Coast real estate company were fined $56,000 for underpaying three salespeople. Following legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman, husband and wife Adrian and Nicole Parsons of Total Project Marketing were fined $28,000 for underpaying three employees by a total of $41,472 between October 2009 and February 2011.

According to the ombudsman’s office, the staff members received pay below their minimum weekly wage entitlements and were underpaid for sales commissions. The employees were underpaid amounts of $32,951, $4,800 and $3,720.

In the court proceedings, Judge Michael Jarrett found that the Parsons intending to increase their company’s profits “at the expense of its employees”.

He also said there was “an apparent need for the general deterrence of the common disregard of industrial instruments in the real estate industry”. 

James has noted that the majority of Queensland real estate companies would wish to see their competitors’ poor practices exposed and remedied, an attitude that needs to be harnessed to “bring about improvement and a level playing field for all”.

As a regulator, James said that her agency must strike a balance between education and compliance.

 “We have been meeting regularly with representatives of real estate employer groups to discuss award compliance issues, as we want to ensure that small business people have every opportunity to meet their workplace obligations and have access to reliable, credible resources,” said James.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently established a dedicated Small Business Strategy Team and also works in partnership with franchisors, including real estate agencies, through its National Franchise Program.

This article first appeared on Property Observer.

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