Newly appointed Fair Work Ombudsman, Anna Booth, emphasises that corporate leaders are accountable for any shortcomings in the correct disbursement of wages. Booth, stepping into her new role in September, made it clear that any excuse related to intricate payroll systems or bureaucratic complexities will not be tolerated.
She mentioned, “When examining wages in sectors like caregiving, it’s straightforward. We are aware of the worker’s shift timings and their pay grade. Pointing fingers at intricate systems or administrative hassles is a mere deflection.”
This year, Booth has identified large corporations, universities, agriculture, construction, care, and hospitality sectors as primary areas for rigorous wage review. While she understands that situations vary, she stresses that large established entities must ensure impeccable wage management.
In her words, “Organisations, whether profit-oriented or not, must uphold the integrity of their payroll. Lack of direct oversight over the payroll process does not absolve the board of its governance responsibilities.”
Having spent over eight years with the Fair Work Commission, Booth now takes on a more enforcement-based role, ensuring compliance with the rules she was once part of crafting. Her extensive career in the labor sector, including her tenure with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, combined with her personal experiences, have significantly influenced her perspectives.
One of Booth’s notable achievements was securing the right to afternoon breaks for apparel workers back in 1981. Now, at 68, she remains committed to fostering inclusive workplaces, especially for individuals with disabilities. Her decision to prioritise the care sector was reinforced when a probe secured $17.7 million in back payments for over 7,000 workers. Booth also aims to cultivate a more inclusive culture within the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office.
Protection for migrant workers remains a core priority, especially in light of recent visa policy changes. Additionally, new legislation is in the pipeline, which could lead to significant penalties, potentially ten years of imprisonment and fines reaching $7.8 million, for employers found guilty of intentional wage underpayment. This proposed bill has been met with resistance from several business communities.
Booth clarified that while they may seek the harshest penalties occasionally, their primary goal is compliance and prevention. She noted the staggering $509 million recovered for underpaid workers in 2023, emphasising that the real goal should be to tackle wage issues at the root.
In her concluding remarks, she stated, “The true objective is to ensure correct wage payments from the outset rather than enforcing penalties post-violation.”