The recoveries detailed in the workplace regulator’s newly published Annual Report are the second-largest annual figure recorded, following only the record sum in 2021-22.
More than half of last year’s recoveries came from large corporate and university employers who together back-paid more than $317 million to more than 160,000 underpaid employees.
Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said the regulator continues to deliver strong recoveries results because of its consistent work addressing underpayments in large employers.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman has created a firmer culture of accountability and an environment that expects Australia’s largest employers to prioritise compliance,” Ms Booth said.
“These efforts, including prioritising both the large corporates and university sectors, and combining stronger, targeted compliance and enforcement action across our work, have led to more wages returned to workers’ pockets.
“$1 billion in backpayments across the last two years alone is an important result making a real difference to workers’ lives.”
“Our investigations and enforcement actions send a clear message – all employers must place a higher priority on ensuring they are meeting all their workers’ lawful entitlements, including by improving their payroll and governance and investing in advice.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman filed 81 litigations in 2022-23.
In firsts for the regulator, the FWO commenced litigations against a university, a franchisor alleging liability for franchisee breaches of workplace laws, and a holding company for alleged contraventions by its subsidiaries.
These major litigations, all continuing before the Federal Court, include two separate cases against the University of Melbourne, separate cases against franchisors 85 Degrees Coffee and Bakers Delight Holdings, and proceedings against holding company Super Retail Group and four of its subsidiaries.
In concluded cases, the agency secured nearly $3.7 million in court-ordered penalties in the year, of which nearly $1.5 million were from matters that included 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 also entered into 15 Enforceable Undertakings with businesses, which covered a total of $40.3 million back-paid to employees. These EUs involved backpayments of millions of dollars each from some of Australia’s largest employers including Suncorp, Australian Unity, David Jones, Politix, Crown Melbourne and Perth, Charles Sturt University, the University of Newcastle and University of Technology Sydney.
The workplace regulator issued 2,424 Compliance Notices, resulting in $14.8 million in unpaid wages recovered. Fair Work Inspectors also issued 626 Infringement Notices for record-keeping or pay slips breaches, with total fines of $739,966 – 65 per cent more than in 2021-22.
Fulfilling its crucial education role, the FWO’s website had 27 million visits to access its information on a variety of workplace law information such as award updates, legislative changes and workplace entitlements. Nearly 121,000 pages were translated into another language.
In addition, the agency’s Pay and Conditions Tool assisted employees and employers in calculating pay rates and other entitlements with a record 6.4 million visits and more than 7.1 million pay tool calculations made. While frontline staff answered more than 370,000 customer enquiries through phone and digital channels.
The agency’s Employer Advisory Service, in its second year of operation, provided 2,850 pieces of tailored, written advice to help small businesses comply with the law. This was an increase of 119 per cent compared to its first year.
Ms Booth said it is vitally important for the regulator to explore and address the drivers of non-compliance and leverage education and engagement activities to achieve the purpose of the FWO – to promote harmonious, productive, cooperative and compliant workplace relations.
“I am incredibly proud to lead an organisation that delivers such important services for the community. Through the agency’s sustained hard work, we have ensured that employees and employers across Australian workplaces have the help and latest accurate information they need. Of course, prevention is better for employer and worker alike,” Ms Booth said.
“We are continuing our intelligence-led, priority-driven work in 2023-24, targeting high risk sectors including agriculture, building and construction, care, fast food, restaurants and cafés, large corporates and the university sector, while also prioritising small business employers and employees, and vulnerable or ‘at risk’ workers.”