Australian workers suspect bosses breaking overtime laws – SMEs urged to get savvy on their obligations

More than half of Australian workers think their employers are breaking overtime laws, according to a new survey of more than 8,000 employees in several different countries.

Legal expert Peter Vitale warns while many small businesses are up to date with their obligations, some SMEs may not know how they should be paying their staff – and they should remedy that immediately.

“Determining their obligations shouldn’t be too difficult,” he told SmartCompany this morning. “In most cases, it’s quite clear cut.”

The payment of overtime rates has been in headlines recently, as many employers in a variety of industries – especially hospitality – suggest overtime rates are too high.

The new survey from human resources firm Kronos surveyed workers in several countries about overtime laws, and found 57% of the 1,010 Australian respondents who are paid by the hour think their employers have neglected overtime rules at some point during their employment.

However, this is lower than the rest of the world – 88% in China, 81% in India, 80% in Britain and 66% in Mexico say their employers have neglected their respective laws.

Some other key findings include that at some point, 34% of Australian workers indicated there was a requirement to work overtime. But optional overtime is still common with 54% saying they have been offered the opportunity by their employers.

Workers are happy about that opportunity, too – 91% said they were either happy with their overtime rates or said they’d like to do more.

But Vitale says businesses need to know their obligations before tackling the subject of overtime – which can be difficult when conditions vary between awards.

“The first thing to note is that overtime rules change, so there isn’t really any uniform application. Employers need to be very careful to check the award applicable to them.”

As a general rule that applies to many awards, Vitale says time and a half will be paid for the first two hours, and then double time after that, while that can increase on weekends.

There are also rules that dictate how much overtime can be taken, although he says these are mainly occupational health and safety rules that dictate how long a break an employee must have between each shift. Most awards say this break should be a minimum of 10 hours.

“That’s designed specifically to address people working a large amount of overtime.”

Vitale says the information isn’t hard to find – so businesses should be able to spend some time figuring it out.

“The problem is, a lot of smaller employers don’t know, or don’t care and haven’t gone out of their way to find out.”

“But determining obligations isn’t difficult, and in most cases it’s clear cut.”




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