Inquiry reports

'Inquiries' are where we look into certain areas such as businesses, industries, regions, supply chains, labour markets or a combination of these. We do this to better identify and understand issues in these areas and to recommend responses.

We may begin an Inquiry in response to:

  • systematic non-compliance trends in our data
  • issues raised in the media
  • concerns we get from the public.

The scope of an Inquiry usually goes beyond a single request for assistance.

During an Inquiry, we'll look at any structural and behavioural drivers that lead to serious and / or widespread non-compliance. We pay particular attention to the influence of entities at the top of the supply chains.

As part of an Inquiry we might conduct site visits, interviews and audits of workplace records over a number of years.

At the end of an Inquiry we'll usually share our findings, recommendations and actions here on fairwork.gov.au.

Download and read our inquiry findings into:

Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program

Release date: October 2016  

In August 2014, due to an escalating number of requests for assistance, we commenced an Inquiry focusing on the wages and conditions of 417 visa holders.

The Inquiry examined the impact of conditions attached to the 417 visa, specifically the 88 day requirement, and whether it’s a driver of non-compliance.

During the Inquiry we received information from visa holders, stakeholders and the public that suggested exploitation of 417 visa holders, including:

  • underpayment or non-payment of wages
  • payments to employers and third parties to get second year work rights visas
  • increased dependency on the employer during the 88 day specified work period
  • sexual harassment, workplace health and safety issues, and exploitation
  • employers offering unpaid work in return for helping workers meet the second year visa eligibility requirements.

The Inquiry found that the 417 visa program created an environment where unreasonable and unlawful requirements are being imposed on visa holders by unscrupulous businesses. It also found exploitative workforce cultures and behaviours are occurring in isolated and remote workplaces where the 417 visa program was being run and that employers are making unlawful deductions from visa holder’s wages.

As a result of the Inquiry we recommend a number of measures, including:

  • establishing a federal – state, inter-agency working group that examines current and future regulations to develop a holistic compliance and enforcement model
  • exploring opportunities to work with a broader range of stakeholders and extend the channels through which information and support is delivered
  • supporting the establishment of an Employer Register for employers of 417 visa holders partnering with academics and migration experts.

Download the full report on our Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program (DOCX 4.7MB)  (PDF 1.4MB).

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Trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited

Release date: June 2016 

In June 2014 we commenced an Inquiry into Woolworths’ procurement of trolley collectionservices.

For nearly a decade before this, we'd been investigating allegations of serious non-compliance with workplace laws involving businesses providing trolley collection services to Woolworths Limited (Woolworths).

In response to a perceived lack of improvement in compliance and disturbing allegations of violence towards workers at some Woolworths' sites, we started an Inquiry into their procurement of trolley collection services. It aimed to comprehensively identify and address the levels and drivers of non-compliance with Australian workplace laws by businesses involved in Woolworths' labour supply chains.

We examined around 130 Woolworths' supermarket sites across Australia and found indications of some form of non-compliance at 79% of them. The findings of this report indicate an entrenched culture of non-compliance in the Woolworths trolley collection supply chain.

At the time of publishing, as a result of the Inquiry, we've taken enforcement action against a number of businesses (and their Directors) involved in various Woolworths' labour supply chains, including:

  • commencing legal action against 2 businesses and their Directors, one of which we believe provided us with false and misleading records and the other for allegedly underpaying over $25 000 in wages
  • issuing 9 letters of caution for various Award contraventions, failing to adequately keep records, and misclassifying employment as an independent contracting arrangement.

We are also considering future legal proceedings against a number of other businesses providing labour to Woolworths for similar alleged contraventions.

Download the full report on our Inquiry into trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited (DOCX 1.9MB)  (PDF 1.1MB).

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Procurement of housekeepers by four and five-star hotel groups

Release date: May 2016 

Between 2014 - 2015 we conducted an Inquiry into the procurement of housekeeping services within three major hotel chains, after receiving intelligence about the employment practices of 4 and 5-star hotels.

Our Inquiry involved a review of a sample of hotel sites from within Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc, The Accor Group and Oaks Hotels & Resorts Ltd. Through this Inquiry we found that dozens of housekeepers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane had been short-changed more than $57,000 with employers failing to:

  • pay applicable penalty rates
  • reimburse employees for the cost of specialist clothing
  • provide a regular pattern of work for part-time employees
  • apply accrual of leave entitlements.

Employers also failed to maintain records of the employment status of their workers and rosters didn't have start and finish times.

Many of the employees affected were vulnerable employees - international students and backpackers on the 417 working holiday visa, mostly from China and Korea.

Generally, businesses subject to the Inquiry worked cooperatively with us.

Outcomes arising from the Inquiry include 3 Enforceable Undertakings, the issuing of 8 Letters of Caution, 6 Compliance Notices and 2 on-the-spot fines.

The Inquiry has recommended both Starwood and The Accor Group enter compliance partnerships with us to publicly demonstrate their commitment to creating compliant, productive and inclusive Australian workplaces.

We've also made a number of recommendations to the sub-sector as a whole, including principal contractors and subcontractors to address systemic non-compliance in the procurement of cleaning services across all hotel groups.

This Inquiry has clearly highlighted the need for lead businesses in Australia to ensure their labour supply chain arrangements are compliant.

Download the full report on our Inquiry into the procurement of housekeepers by four and five-star hotel groups (DOCX 247.5KB)  (PDF 769.8KB).

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Identifying and addressing the drivers of non-compliance in the 7-Eleven network

Release date: April 2016 

In June 2014 we commenced an Inquiry into 7-Eleven Australia Pty Ltd following claims of systematic non-compliance with workplace laws.

To identify, discuss and address the drivers of non-compliance in the 7-Eleven network, this Inquiry:

  • examined the actions and considered the motivations of workplace participants
  • sought to better understand the respective roles of 7-Eleven head office, its franchisees and their employees in the network’s operating model and culture
  • sought to determine if 7-Eleven had a role in the alleged falsification of employment records and underpayment of wages by franchisees. 

During the Inquiry we conducted coordinated site inspections and analysed the record-keeping of a sample of 20 7-Eleven stores. We also completed in-depth investigations of a number of 7-Eleven stores that were the subject of requests for assistance from employees.

The Inquiry found that a number of franchisees have been deliberately falsifying records to disguise the underpayment of wages and that 7-Eleven’s approach to workplace matters, while seemingly promoting compliance, didn’t adequately detect or address deliberate non-compliance.

The investigations of the 20 sample stores, and of stores investigated as part of the wider Inquiry, have led to a range of enforcement actions.

The Inquiry report also details recent changes made by 7-Eleven to ensure future compliance and provides a number of recommendations designed to:

  • promote a sustainable culture of compliance across its network
  • enhance the Fair Work Ombudsman’s effectiveness to hold entities and persons responsible for exploiting vulnerable workers on temporary working visas to account.

Download the full report on Identifying and addressing the drivers of non-compliance in the 7-Eleven network (DOCX 5.1MB)  (PDF 1.5MB).

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Labour procurement arrangements of the Baiada Group

Release date: June 2015

In November 2013 we commenced an inquiry into the Baiada Group's labour procurement processes. Allegations had been raised publicly, about the employment practices within Baiada's supply-chain, in an article on the ABC's Lateline program in October 2013. The allegations contained in the article were consistent with information we received from:

  • plant workers who submitted requests for assistance
  • the Australian Meat Industry Employees' Union
  • members of the local communities of Griffith and Tamworth.

The inquiry aimed to:

  • identify and better understand the drivers of non-compliance in the poultry processing industry
  • map and profile the key decision makers within the supply chains at the Baiada Group's three NSW sites in Beresfield, Hanwood and Tamworth
  • determine who in the supply chain was responsible for the exploitation of workers. 

Download our report on The Fair Work Ombudsman's Inquiry into the labour procurement arrangements of the Baiada Group in New South Wales (DOCX 3.9MB)  (PDF 612.9KB)

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Department of State Development and Business Innovation

Release date: February 2015 

In December 2013 we started a formal inquiry into sham contracting allegations at the Victorian government's Department of State Development and Business Innovation (DSDBI). These allegations were brought up by the Community and Public Sector Union SPSF Victorian Branch. 

The inquiry found no evidence of sham contracting. However, the inquiry did find a "heightened risk" that in seeking to achieve financial savings the department may have contravened the Fair Work Act.

The inquiry found:

  • the way in which DSDBI planned to engage certain workers as independent contractors increased its risk of non-compliance with workplace law
  • some workers may not be getting their correct entitlements if they’re characterised as independent contractors instead of employees
  • the department’s workforce was reticent to complain publicly
  • DSDBI hadn’t responded to or acted on recommendations made previously by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office about its procurement of labour.

To find out more about the inquiry download:

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Department of Education and Child Development procurement of minibuses

Release date: November 2014

In February 2014, we commenced an inquiry into allegations of sham arrangements by businesses that provided transport for children with special needs for the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development (DECD).

We found DECD’s procurement arrangements for minibus operators lacked basic quality governance features.

The inquiry found that nine of thirteen South Australian mini-bus operators audited were misclassifying their drivers as sub-contractors instead of employees, and were issued with a Letter of Caution. We have advised DECD to address its procurement practices promptly as it risked exposing itself to accessorial liability contraventions under Section 550 of the Fair work Act.

As a result of our findings, we have made the following recommendations:

  • That DECD review its current contract governance arrangements to ensure contractual requirements drive compliance with all applicable legislation throughout the tender process;
  • Transport operators exercise a greater degree of care in assessing the cost to deliver their services and to seek professional advice on their contracting arrangements; and
  • Drivers who claim to be independent contractors to be fully aware of the risks of enforcement action by other Commonwealth departments for any failure to properly disclose their income and WorkCover or public liability status.

Download the full report on the Inquiry into misclassification of drivers for special needs school transport runs for the Government of South Australia (PDF 257.7KB) (DOCX 132.9KB).

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ACT Ambulance Service

Release date: November 2013

In 2012, we commenced an inquiry into the ACT Ambulance Service (ACTAS) relating to the accuracy of employee leave records kept by the ACT Government and the attempts to recover apparent overpayments to workers. These allegations were raised with the FWO by the Transport Workers Union of Australia.

The inquiry report identifies the timeline of events and issues which led to concerns over the accuracy of employee records, including the employer’s publication of incorrect and potentially inflated leave balances on employee pay slips for a period of more than two years.

We found that the Justice and Community Safety Directorate contravened workplace laws in relation to record keeping, and issued a Letter of Caution in relation to these contraventions.

Download the full report on the FWO investigation of ACT Government entities involved in the employment and payment of ACT Ambulance Service employees (PDF 325KB) (DOCX 184.5KB).

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Church of Scientology

Release date: September 2011 

In March 2010 we initiated an investigation into the Church of Scientology. Allegations had been raised publicly about their employment practices in:

  • an article on the ABC’s Four Corners program on 9 March
  • the Senate on 18 March.

The investigation considered:

  • whether people working for the Church of Scientology were employees and, if so, whether they received their correct entitlements
  • whether the Church of Scientology was required to keep time and wages records as set out by the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work Regulations.

Download our Statement of Findings – Church of Scientology, Narconon and Get off Drugs Naturally (PDF 4MB).

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