The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued a warning to employers to check pay rates and entitlements over the Christmas and New Year public holidays.
The FWO investigated more than 800 complaints relating to the underpayment of public holiday penalty rates last financial year and recovered “tens of thousands of dollars” for hundreds of employees who had been short-changed their public holiday penalty rates.
In a doorstop interview yesterday with Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, the Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said the main issue was employees being paid flat rates instead of the penalty rates which they’re entitled to under the public holiday awards.
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“Whether you are a business operator preparing for a busy festive trading period or an employee working through the holiday season, it’s important you are aware of the penalty rates that apply,” he said.
“A bit of prevention obviously is the best thing. Find out the information before those days occur, what you’re entitled to be paid or what you should be paying your workers.”
Wilson said the sectors with the main problems were retail and hospitality and other industries which rely on casual labour.
“In the industries where people are working according to shifts, we find less problems,” he said.
“But even in those sort of cases, we do find a temptation by employers to cut corners and not pay the penalty rates.”
Shorten said it was important that people were paid correctly if they were working over the Christmas and New Year public holidays.
“We want to make sure that business understand what their obligations are so they don’t, by mistake, get into trouble themselves,” he said.
Shorten said every Christmas and New Year saw many employees being ripped off.
“In my experience small business never wants to rip people off – they just want to know what the rules are,” he said.
“But I don’t think any of us can stand by and say it’s a good thing to see literally hundreds of people ripped off.”
Shorten rejected suggestions that businesses could not afford to pay penalty rates.
He said with the minimum adult wage at $16 an hour, businesses who struggle with paying people their minimum entitlements “are not looking at what the real challenges are in their business.”
“Australia is not Bali, it is not Thailand, it is not a third world country,” he said.
“I believe strongly that when you work unsocial hours, when you’re delivering services to the rest of us at Christmas time and New Year’s when the rest of us are on holiday, having a great time, you should be paid what you’re meant to be paid.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman has updated the public holidays section of its website with information about penalty rates on public holidays in each state and territory.
The information includes the dates of various public holidays and part-day public holidays, together with advice relating to rates of pay and requesting or declining to work on public holidays.