A recent audit of more than 1,385 businesses in regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria found “unacceptable” levels of compliance with workplace laws, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) said.
The FWO last week released details of a regional audit campaign which saw it visit more than 1,300 businesses across the country, finding more than one in five (22%) failed to pay their employees correctly.
The findings are the latest indication a sizeable proportion of business owners are either skirting their obligations as employers or are unaware of their responsibilities.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker says regions such as La Trobe and Shepparton in Victoria, as well as Wide Bay and Ipswich in Queensland, were targeted based on intelligence.
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“Fair Work Inspectors targeted specific regions after employees contacted us for help, many of whom could be vulnerable to workplace exploitation due to their youth or visa status,” she said in a statement circulated on Friday morning.
“It is unacceptable that almost half of the businesses we visited were simply unaware of their obligations under workplace laws and were not paying the lawful minimum hourly wage.”
In total, $581,976 was recovered for 951 employees working across more than 300 businesses — an average of $600 underpaid per worker.
Businesses in the accommodation, hospitality and retail sectors were targeted during the campaign as high-risk industries.
A whopping 43% of firms weren’t compliant with all workplace relations laws, including the 21% of audited firms not keeping up with pay slip and record keeping obligations.
Almost 100 audited businesses (6%) were in breach of both monetary and non-monetary obligations.
The FWO has issued 39 formal cautions, 27 infringement notices and eight compliance notices in connection with the campaign and will be revisiting offenders periodically.
The most common breaches were underpayment of minimum hourly rates (41%), failure to provide proper payslips (30%), failure to pay penalty rates correctly (10%), failure to pay correct overtime (7%) and issues with record keeping (6%).
Among businesses found to be breaking the law, 48% were unaware of their workplace law obligations, while 20% said they misinterpreted award requirements.
One Ipswich business had not taken into account the annual minimum wage increase, which came into effect last July, resulting in underpayment of about $800.
“The employer reimbursed the affected workers, explaining they had relied on their accountant to keep them up to date with changes to workplace relations laws including annual pay rate increases,” the FWO said in its report on the campaign.