The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered more than $190,000 in unpaid wages for 268 workers, after an audit campaign in remote and regional areas across the country.
Inspectors checked 600 businesses in a number of towns including Broken Hill, Longreach, Roxby Downs, Katherine and Kununurra, to ensure they were complying with workplace laws.
While the businesses were randomly selected, the regions that were targeted was based on the number of complaints from workers about underpayments.
More than 60 percent of businesses were found to be fully compliant with workplace laws.
Inspectors found that 76 percent were paying their employees correctly, and 80 percent were keeping proper pay records.
Most of the breaches discovered involved underpayments – with workplaces failing to pay proper hourly rates.
Underpayments ranged from $36 for a worker in Coober Pedy in South Australia, to $11,946 owed to two workers at a business in Stawell in Victoria.
In total, $191,125 was back paid to 268 workers as a result of the audit campaign.
Inspectors issued 45 formal cautions, 14 infringement notices (on the spot fines) and nine compliance notices to rectify breaches.
What the Ombudsman says
Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah said those who work in remote areas are often frightened to complain about underpayments.
“Employees in smaller communities may be reluctant to raise workplace concerns where employment options may be limited. As a result of our workplace audits, tens of thousands of dollars have been put back in the pockets of workers in remote and regional Australian towns,” she said.
“All businesses have the same responsibility to comply with their workplace obligations if they choose to employ workers, regardless of location.”
The bottom line
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Fair Work Claims, welcomed the action by the workplace regulator.
“The Ombudsman spends a lot of time and money on education, and not enough on enforcement,” he said.
“Audit campaigns like these have their place and do serve a purpose, and obviously it’s great news that these workers have been paid the money that they are owed.”
Mr Heffernan once again called for wage theft to be made a criminal offence.
“There is no excuse for wage theft, but until we see start seeing some rogue employers criminally charged and hauled before the courts, and even sent to prison, wage theft will continue to happen in epidemic proportions around the country,” he said.
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Fair Work Claims is a private consultancy and advocacy firm with no affiliation to any government agency, commission or tribunal.