Retailers are being urged to make use of self-help tools provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman, after a report found 26% of retail employers are underpaying employee wages and entitlements.
Last year, the Ombudsman conducted random audits of almost 2,000 Australian retailers and found 26% of those retailers are failing to pay their workers correctly.
The audits were triggered by the high number of complaints about retail employers. The industry accounted for just under 20% of all complaints received in 2009, which was the highest number of complaints received from any industry.
The Ombudsman recovered $585,000 in back pay for 755 retail staff, with NSW employers accounting for 41% of the total underpayment.
Pharmacies and electronic retailers were the worst offenders, according to the Ombudsman, with nearly a third of employers in breach. In the department store sector, only 2.5% were in breach.
Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says the report highlights the level of confusion among retailers regarding the requirements of the modern award system.
“Many employers underpay as the result of a lack of information or they make mistakes interpreting the information they have,” Wilson said in a statement.
While 51% of breaches related to employees’ pay, 37% were technical breaches such as pay slip requirements.
The report found “very limited evidence of employees not being paid for hours they were required to work outside trading hours”.
“Regardless of these positive findings, feedback from Fair Work inspectors indicated that many employers had a limited understanding of some of the particulars of the Retail Award and the NES (National Employment Standards) and that they welcomed the opportunity to get further information,” the report said.
According to the report, common queries related to transitioning from the state jurisdiction, phasing in rates, and rosters and meal breaks, particularly those stores with only one or two staff.
The report said in light of the feedback from Fair Work Inspectors – on the level of knowledge in the industry – the Ombudsman will continue to work with the retail sector in a “proactive way”.
“We encourage all retail employers to use the various self-help tools such as PayCheck Plus and employment guides, which are available on our website,” the report said.
“We will also continue to work in cooperation with the industry associations and promote our dedicated helpline for industry association[s].”
“Finally, we will continue to monitor the ongoing rate of workplace complaints and then consider the need to undertake a follow-up campaign to determine how the industry is continuing to adapt to the Fair Work system.”
“We will also produce and publish an updated report on the completion of the ongoing audits/ investigations that are part of this campaign in order to provide a full and comprehensive picture of the national campaign.”
The report comes on the back of claims by restaurateur and MasterChef TV star George Calombaris that public holiday and weekend penalty rates could hurt his new venture, Melbourne eatery Mama Baba.
“Wages on public holidays and weekends greatly exceed the opportunity for profit,” Calombaris told The Power Index.
“It’s just not a good business practice to be paying penalty rates… Our labour laws are something that need to be looked at.”