Are you paying workers correctly this season?

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The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is warning employers to ensure they have checked the appropriate penalty rates and entitlements are being paid over the Christmas and New Year public holidays.

In the last financial year the workplace watchdog investigated more than 800 complaints relating to the underpayment of public holiday penalty rates, and employers were ordered to repay “tens of thousands of dollars” to employees who were not paid their correct entitlements.

According to Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson, the number one issue is that employers, both mistakenly and deliberately, pay the base rate of pay instead of the public holiday penalty rates to which workers are legally entitled. “Whether you are a business operator preparing for a busy festive trading period or an employee working through the holiday season, it's important you are aware of the penalty rates that apply,” Wilson commented. “A bit of prevention obviously is the best thing. Find out the information before those days occur, what you're entitled to be paid or what you should be paying your workers,” he added.

The watchdog has said the hospitality and retail sectors continue to be the main offenders in underpayment of wages, but other industries which rely on casual labour are also liable to incorrectly pay wages. “In the industries where people are working according to shifts, we find less problems,” Wilson said.

Workplace relations minister Bill Shorten also weighed in on the payment of wages over the Christmas break. “We want to make sure that business understand what their obligations are so they don't, by mistake, get into trouble themselves,” he said. Shorten was aslo quick to reject suggestions that businesses could not afford to pay penalty rates. The minimum adult wage, currently at $16 an hour, should not be unaffordable, and if it is, businesses “are not looking at what the real challenges are in their business”.

The minister added the employees who work unsocial hours deserve to be paid for their sacrifices.

Notably FWO has recently updated the public holiday section of its website with information about penalty rates. There are differences for each state and territory.

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