Workers in the Geelong area have been back-paid $431,875 as a result of surprise audits by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The audit is part of a wider series of proactive investigations targeting wage theft in regional university cities.
The regulator says employers in these areas regularly breach workplace laws.
Geelong workers back-paid
Fair Work targeted 123 high-risk businesses during the audit – for example, takeaway outlets, restaurants, cafes and retail stores.
Inspectors found 77 percent of businesses failed to comply with workplace laws.
Of those businesses, more than half underpaid staff and failed to keep proper records and provide pay slips.
The most common breaches involved failing to pay the lawful minimum wage and also failing to pay proper penalty rates.
One worker has been back-paid a staggering $52,558 in unpaid wages.
Meanwhile, most employers said the breaches happened because they didn’t understand their workplace obligations.
No legal action
Despite the high rate of non-compliance, Fair Work has not commenced legal action against any of the businesses.
Instead, it issued:
- 7 contravention letters,
- 14 formal cautions,
- 61 infringement notices (with total penalties of $110,460), and also
- 65 Compliance Notices.
Meanwhile, one business remains under investigation for serious non-compliance and may face legal proceedings.
Furthermore, Fair Work warned other businesses that future breaches will likely lead to enforcement action.
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Wage theft is rife
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan said wage theft is rife across Australia.
“Criminal penalties, including jail time, is the only thing that will deter greedy or incompetent employers from stealing wages from their workers,” he said.
“Wage theft has gone on for too long in Australia, and as this audit proves, current penalties are not working.”
Rate of compliance ‘disappointing’
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said she is disappointed with the low rate of compliance.
“The level of breaches of workplace laws identified in these areas and sectors of Geelong is unacceptable, particularly the breaches involving young workers and students who we know are potentially vulnerable due to their age, visa status and reliance on local jobs.”
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