Once again, the Fair Work Ombudsman (‘FWO’) has demonstrated its broad powers to conduct on-site audits, this time in Melbourne’s entertainment hot spots including Carlton, Brunswick and Fitzroy North.
In a reprise of similar events in Sydney’s South-West and Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley earlier this year, the FWO has sent inspectors to more than 50 restaurants, bars and cafes for the purposes of ensuring compliance with the national workplace relations laws.
Chosen at random, businesses have been compelled to produce time and wage records for their employees. Fair Work Inspectors have also engaged in conversations with employees and managers as to their entitlements under the Fair Work Act 2009.
In all three cities, the FWO has focused particularly on hospitality businesses, given the tendency for young and overseas workers (who are considered ‘vulnerable’) to find employment in this industry. The FWO has also relied on intelligence in selecting businesses in areas where there appears to be a culture of paying flat rates well below the minimum wage.
As stated by FWO Natalie James, “[Employee] vulnerability may be compounded in highly competitive and price-driven markets, such as popular restaurant and bar strips, where some operators might attempt to gain an unfair advantage by cost-cutting through the underpayment of wages.
“These spot-checks are designed to identify any instances of non-compliance in these precincts.
“Building a culture of compliance where employers are fully aware of and abide by their workplace obligations will help create a level playing field for businesses in the interests of both employers and their workers.
“Businesses should be aware that refusal to cooperate with my agency or any examples of serious non-compliance may lead to enforcement action, including litigation.”
What does this mean for your business?
Fair Work Inspectors are given considerable powers for the purposes of determining whether a business is compliant with the law. These include the power to:
- enter the premises without permission, provided they have shown their identity card to the occupier,
- inspect any work, process or object,
- interview anyone in the workforce without the employer’s consent,
- compel the production of relevant records or documents and make copies, and
- take samples of any goods or substances.
Although most businesses will be given the opportunity to correct any wrongdoing, a breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 or any other fair work instrument including Modern Awards, can result in penalties of up to $12,600 for an individual and $63,000 for a corporation (per contravention). Furthermore, a person who seeks to hinder or obstruct a Fair Work Inspector from performing their duties may face criminal charges.
With an uprise in penalties being awarded by the courts on prosecution by the FWO, employers are advised to conduct regular audits of their business practices.
If you are concerned about your obligations as an employer under the workplace relations laws, contact the NRA today on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245) and speak to a workplace advisor.