On 22 June 2022, the Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker (FWO) has announced their strategic priorities for the year ahead. We summarise the priorities to give employers and employees alike a ‘heads up’ for what is to come from the regulatory body:
1. University Sector
Ms Parker said the universities sector was a new compliance and enforcement priority after regular self-reports from universities of significant underpayments, including to casual workers.
“We are concerned about the allegations of long-running underpayments in many universities, with our current investigations finding trends of poor governance and management oversight, and a lack of centralised human resources functions and investment in payroll and time-recording systems. We expect to be taking high-level enforcement action against a number of universities this year, and urge all to prioritise their compliance,” Ms Parker said.
2. Fast food, Restaurants and Cafes and Agriculture
Fast food, restaurants and cafes and agriculture will be the key industries of focus in 2022-23.
“The FWO continues to find high levels of non-compliance in the fast food, restaurants and cafe sector, with many requests for assistance coming from vulnerable workers. That is why we will continue to undertake proactive investigations in metropolitan food precincts across the year,” Ms Parker said.
“The agriculture sector is a priority given its reliance on visa holders, who can be at greater risk of exploitation, and its often complex labour supply chains. The Fair Work Ombudsman will also be playing a key role in both education and enforcement of the recent Horticulture Award changes.”
3. Investigating Large Corporate Underpayments
Ms Parker said that investigating large corporate underpayments remained a priority for the regulator.
“We are currently investigating about 50 large corporates that have self-reported non-compliance. Since mid-2021, we have commenced court actions against Woolworths Group, Commonwealth Bank and Coles which are ongoing, and we expect to take further high-level enforcement action against a range of large corporates this year,” Ms Parker said.
4. Support Small Businesses
Ms Parker said the regulator would continue to prioritise assistance to small businesses, recognising the crucial role they had played in the nation’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
5. Compliance and Enforcement Activities
Compliance and enforcement activities will continue throughout the year in contract cleaning and through the FWO’s sham contracting unit.
“We will continue to enforce wage laws to ensure vulnerable workers, including visa holders and young workers, are protected, while helping both employers and workers with free advice,” Ms Parker said.
We recommend that employers are proactive in ensuring their compliance with minimum pay rates and awards, rather than waiting to be investigated.
The reason for this is the substantial penalties that are awarded against employers for non-compliance and the significant amounts of back pay that must be paid to reimburse employees for wage underpayment. If you have any question about the FWO priorities for 2022-23 or seek assistance with ensuring you are classifying and paying your employees correctly, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Daphne Klianis or Josh Hoggett