Fair Work Ombudsman announces 2022-23 priorities

On 22 June 2022, the Fair Work Ombudsman (‘FWO’) Sandra Parker announced the Regulator’s priorities for the next 12 months, which have been expanded from focusing on supporting workers and businesses in recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 to include the university sector.

The new focus on the university sector comes amid regular self-reports to the FWO of underpayments by universities, including to casual workers. The FWO alleges the issues have arisen because of a number of factors, including poor governance and management oversight, a lack of centralisation in HR functions and failures to invest in payroll and time-recording systems.

The FWO will also be retaining its focus on employment practices in the fast food, restaurant and café industry, as well as the horticulture industry. These sectors have been the subject of intense scrutiny from the Regulator in recent years and the FWO’s renewed focus follows continued high levels of non-compliance.

In the horticulture industry, complex supply chains and the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers on temporary visas will be a particular focus in the next 12 months. In the restaurant and hospitality industries, employers will continue to see proactive investigations from the FWO in metropolitan areas.

Employers who are found by the FWO to have underpaid workers, or who are otherwise non-compliant with their employment law obligations, risk being publicly named by the FWO. For example, large corporations such as the Woolworths Group, Commonwealth Bank and Coles have recently been the subject of reputational damage following self-reported non-compliance and subsequent court action from the Regulator.

In addition to ‘naming and shaming’ employers, the FWO has powers to:

  • compel the employer to produce employment records;
  • issue penalty infringement notices;
  • issue compliance notices; and
  • take the employer to Court and seek compensation and the imposition of civil penalties (which are currently set at $66,600.00 per breach for a company and $13,320.00 per breach for any person who is knowingly involved in the breach).

The message from the FWO is clear – employers who engage in such practices are likely to get caught. Aitken Legal recommends employers review their HR, payroll and timesheet systems, and software packages, to ensure they are compliant with their legal obligations.

This message also serves as a timely reminder for employers on the risks of non-compliance. If you have never sought specialist employment law advice on your workplace practices, or have not done so for a while, then now would be a good time to have your systems and practices reviewed and updated so that you are well prepared if a FWO Investigator examines your business.   If you have any concerns about potential underpayments, or face an underpayment claim, we recommend you speak to one of our experienced lawyers who will be able to assist you.

Disclaimer: The information contained this article is general and intended as a guide only. Professional advice should be sought before applying any of the information to particular circumstances. While every reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this update, Aitken Legal does not accept liability for any errors it may contain. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.