Shorten appoints Natalie James as the Fair Work Ombudsman, as $250,000 is repaid to service station workers

Businesses are about to become familiar with a new name, as today Natalie James starts her new role as the Fair Work Ombudsman, just as the watchdog releases the findings of its recent crackdown on service stations.

James, previously a senior manager with the federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, was officially appointed to the position on Friday by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.

She takes on the position which was vacated earlier this year when Nicholas Wilson resigned from the job upon being appointed to the Fair Work Commission as a commissioner.

Between Wilson’s resignation and James’ appointment, FWO group manager, operations, Michael Campbell served as the Ombudsman in the interim.

The FWO’s role includes the “promotion of harmonious, productive and cooperative workplace relations and ensuring compliance with Fair Work laws”, according to a statement from Shorten.

“Ms James brings a wealth of workplace relations experience to the role having previously been the Chief Counsel, Workplace Relations in the DEEWR, as well as having spent time in senior roles at the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman,” Shorten said in a statement.

SmartCompany contacted the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, but no comment was available prior to publication.

On top of James’ appointment, deputy president Val Gostencnik was awarded the job of director of the Fair Work Building Inspectorate and John Kovacic was appointed as deputy president of the Fair Work Commission.

Both James and Gostencnik will be in their roles for up to five years.

The Fair Work Ombudsman polices compliance, particularly in small businesses, and frequently pursues workers’ rights, especially in relation to underpayment.

Recent sectors which have come under scrutiny include the hospitality industry, the cleaning industry, the transport industry and service stations.

The FWO typically scrutinises industries which have a high rate of casualised labour and sectors which employ a large number of young and foreign workers.

The Ombudsman’s most recent campaign against service stations in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory has seen almost $250,000 returned to underpaid workers.

In Western Australia, the FWO conducted 93 audits of service stations and found 40% of businesses were non-compliant.

Of the 37 businesses found to have breached their obligations, most had failed to meet record-keeping and pay slip obligations, while 21 businesses had underpaid 394 employees a total of $190,070.

In South Australia, 47% of businesses had compliance issues and in the Northern Territory, 43% were found to have breached workplace laws.

FWO executive director Steve Ronson said in a statement this morning the FWO assisted the employers to rectify the non-compliance issues.

“While the overall contravention rate was concerning, it is pleasing that all employers were willing to back-pay their staff without the need for further action.

“The aim of the campaign was to ensure workers were receiving their full entitlements and to make sure that employers in the industry were aware of their obligations under workplace laws,” he says.

The FWO investigation was triggered by a persistence of complaints in the sector.

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