The Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $532 million for 384,805 underpaid workers in 2021-22 – a record sum of back-paid wages and entitlements for a record number of employees.
The recoveries, detailed in the workplace regulator’s latest Annual Report, are three times higher than the previous record recoveries in 2020-21, and more than quadruple that achieved in 2019-20.
More than half of the year’s recoveries came from large corporate employers, who back-paid nearly $279 million to more than 267,000 employees. This was six times the amount returned from large corporates in the previous financial year.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the agency’s consistent work across many years addressing underpayments in Australia’s large corporations had hit significant milestones in 2021-22.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman has created an environment that expects large corporates to prioritise compliance. 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,” Ms Parker said.
“All employers must prioritise putting in place systems and getting the advice they need to ensure they are paying 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.”
In 2021-22, the FWO took two of Australia’s largest employers to court: the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Coles Supermarkets. Both matters are still before the Federal Court.
In total, there were 137 new litigations in 2021-22 – 80 per cent more than the year before. This is a record number of litigations for the FWO and the first time it has 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. These workers can be vulnerable because they are often unaware of their workplace rights or can be reluctant to speak up.
The FWO entered into nine Enforceable Undertakings with businesses, recovering $56.4 million for workers through extensive investigations and complex calculations that uncovered the full extent of underpayments.
The workplace regulator also issued 2,345 Compliance Notices in 2021-22, with recoveries through these notices up 23 per cent in a year. Fair Work Inspectors also issued 492 Infringement Notices (total fines of $446,037).
The agency resolved 18,622 workplace disputes between workers and employers in the financial year.
Fulfilling its crucial education role, the FWO’s websites had a record 27 million visits to access its information, while frontline staff answered nearly 350,000 customer enquiries through phone and digital channels.
Ms Parker said she was proud of the support her agency had provided to workplaces as they recovered from the impacts of COVID-19, which was an overarching priority for the agency in 2021-22.
“We provided up-to-date, clear and consistent COVID-19 advice and information, with a focus on vulnerable workers, small businesses and industries hardest hit by the pandemic’s disruption,” Ms Parker said.
The FWO’s Coronavirus hotline answered almost 29,000 calls from employers and employees, and dedicated Coronavirus online content received more than 5.7 million page views across the year.
“Our priorities for 2022-23, in addition to ongoing pandemic recovery support, are fast food, restaurants and cafés, large corporates, the university sector, agriculture, sham contracting and contract cleaning. Anyone with concerns about their workplace rights or obligations should contact us for free advice and assistance,” Ms Parker said.