The Australian arm of international foreign currency exchange business UAE Exchange has entered into an enforceable undertaking with the workplace watchdog after it was found to have underpaid workers a whopping $1.3 million.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) found between 2010 and 2017 nearly 250 workers at UAE Exchange Australia were underpaid amounts between 20 cents and almost $35,000 due to underpayments of award rates and various entitlements.
The FWO was first alerted to the underpayment in late-2015 after a worker lodged a request for assistance, which was followed by two more requests by two other workers.
Those workers were then backpaid $100,253 by the company after the FWO discovered they were being paid between $15.38 and $20.42, with no casual loadings or penalty rates. Under the retail award, the workers should have been receiving a minimum $23.74 an hour, and over $50 an hour on public holidays.
The watchdog then underwent a full audit of the company’s employees, and found 240 workers were underpaid a total of $1,235,411, bringing the total amount of underpayment to $1,335,664.
However, $170,018 of that was due to the company directing employees to “make good” on any till shortages at the end of their shifts via deductions of their own pay.
Over $400,000 of the underpayments have already been rectified, and the company has entered into an enforceable undertaking (EU) with the FWO to ensure the remaining $900,000 is paid back by the end of September.
The EU also requires the company to engage an external auditor to conduct audits of the company’s workplace practices to ensure compliance, and engage any human resources or payroll staff in training with the FWO.
The company will also donate $50,000 to five community services, including the Australian Migrant Resource Centre, and the Council of International Students Australia.
“Under the Enforceable Undertaking, UAE Exchange is required to make major improvements to its workplace practices, with current and future workers to benefit. This action serves as a warning to global businesses that if you don’t get your workplace compliance in order, you can be left with a massive back-payment bill,” Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman takes matters involving visa-holders and workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds particularly seriously. Every single worker in Australia has the same workplace rights, regardless of their citizenship, visa status, ethnicity or cultural and linguistic background.”
$1.3 million at the “higher end”
Speaking to SmartCompany, workplace lawyer Peter Vitale says the $1.3 million number was “certainly at the higher end” of underpayment amounts he’s seen, placing the blame on the company’s system of wage payments being “nowhere near” compliant, and confusion around what award best applied to the company’s workers.
Vitale also notes the decision for the FWO to enter into an enforceable undertaking, especially considering the size of underpayment, was unusual.
“The FWO doesn’t always take it straight to the courts, but the use of EUs has probably increased in the last two years. The sensible reason for that is why would the FWO spend money on litigation when they can achieve the same result through an EU?” he says.
“I don’t think this is a move away from litigation by the FWO, more a demonstration of a willingness to explore other alternatives.
“Enforceable undertakings are good for both employers and employees says Vitale, with business owners being able to avoid thousands in legal fees, and workers being paid back much quicker.
“This demonstrates that at the end of the day, cooperating with the ombudsman is a far less painful course of action, and being uncooperative or evasive only increases the pain,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted UAE Exchange Australia but did not receive a response prior to publication.