Back payments of more than $532 million smash Australian records

'All-time high' sum retrieved from large corporate employers, says FWO

Back payments of more than $532 million smash Australian records

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has recently recovered record-high worker back payments totalling more than $532 million for 384,805 underpaid workers in 2021-22.

The record sum of back-paid wages and entitlements for a record number of employees was three times higher than the previous record recoveries in 2020-21, according to the FWO's latest annual report. It was also more than quadruple of what was achieved in 2019-20.

Where do the recoveries come from?

FWO Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that the agency’s strong actions to resolve underpayments in Australia’s large corporations paved the way for the milestone this financial year (FY). According to an FWO news release, more than half of the recoveries came from large corporations, which back-paid almost $279 million to over 267,000 employees. This recovery was six times higher than the amount returned by large corporations in the previous fiscal year.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has created an environment that expects large corporates to prioritise compliance," Parker said. "Combined with stronger, targeted compliance and enforcement action across all our work, the result has been another record amount of wages back in workers’ pockets”

Enforcement action against employers

In terms of litigation, the FWO noted that it amounted to 137 cases, which was 80% higher than the previous year. It was also the first time that the agency filed 100 litigations in a year.

"In concluded cases, the agency secured about $2.7 million in court-ordered penalties, of which about $1.8 million were from matters involving exploited migrant workers," the FWO said. "These workers can be vulnerable because they are often unaware of their workplace rights or can be reluctant to speak up."

FWO also entered into nine enforceable undertakings (EU), recovering a total of $56.4 million of underpayment for employees, based on the agency's report.

"The workplace regulator also issued 2,345 Compliance Notices in 2021-22, with recoveries through these notices up 23 per cent in a year," the agency said. "Fair Work Inspectors also issued 492 Infringement Notices (total fines of $446,037)."

Lastly, FWO said that during this fiscal year, it resolved 18,622 workplace disputes between workers and employers.

Warning for employers 

Following the record-high recoveries, Parker reminded employers to prioritise having an effective system in place to ensure that they are giving the workers their lawful entitlements.

"Those who are doing the wrong thing, including large corporates, are being found out – and we don’t hesitate to take enforcement action where appropriate," Parker said.

Among the key priority areas of FWO for 2022-23 are "fast food, restaurants and cafés, large corporates, the university sector, agriculture, sham contracting and contract cleaning," Parker said.

The ombudsman also noted that individuals who have concerns regarding their legal workplace rights or responsibilities should contact the FWO for free advice and assistance.

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