Inquiry reports

Read and download reports on Fair Work Ombudsman inquiries into alleged breaches of Australian workplace laws.


'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

Harvest Trail Inquiry Report

Release date: November 2018

In response to employee and community concerns about non-compliance with Australian workplace laws, we commenced an Inquiry into workplace arrangements on the Harvest Trail. We focused on visiting and revisiting Harvest Trail regions to help employers and employees understand their workplace rights and obligations.

The Inquiry found:

  • widespread non-compliance amongst employers investigated
  • misuse of piece rates
  • significant reliance by growers on overseas workers
  • a negative impact where labour hire arrangements were used illegally
  • low consumer awareness and unwillingness to pay more for ‘domestic fair trade’ produce contributes to exploitation.

The Inquiry resulted in a number of compliance and enforcement outcomes, including:

  • 150 Formal Cautions
  • 132 Infringement Notices
  • 13 Compliance Notices
  • 7 Enforceable Undertakings
  • commencement of 8 legal proceedings.

As a result of these activities the FWO recovered more than $1 million for over 2000 employees.

Download the full Harvest Trail Inquiry Report  or learn more about the Harvest Trail Inquiry.

Read our media release:

Inquiry into the procurement of security services by local governments

Release date: June 2018

We commenced an Inquiry into the procurement of security services in local government in response to industry concerns that security employees were being underpaid in the local government sector by forcing prices to unsustainably low levels.

The Inquiry examined the labour procurement arrangements relating to the engagement of security services by 23 local councils across all states and the Northern Territory. The Inquiry was undertaken in two stages, the first being communication and education activities followed by site visits, interviews with council procurement officials, contractors and workers, and assessing records relating to over 400 employees.

The Inquiry found:

  • every state had at least one instance of non-compliance with Commonwealth workplace laws
  • 49 security businesses engaged across 57 different contracting arrangements
  • 61% of Councils had non-compliance within their labour supply chain
  • the ‘further away’ a business was from the Council in the supply chain, the greater the non-compliance:
    • 63% of subcontractors (12 of 19) failed to comply with Commonwealth workplace laws, compared to 42% of principal contractors (16 of 38).

The Inquiry led to 26 formal cautions, 15 compliance notices, 4 infringement notices to non-compliant contractors and subcontractors, as well as 1 enforceable undertaking and 1 litigation.

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

  • that Councils review and amend their security services tender documents to enable full visibility and monitoring of the labour supply chain
  • that principal contractors and subcontractors review and revise all practices to ensure their employees are provided with all of their entitlements under the Fair Work Act 2009 and the relevant industrial instrument
  • that employer and employee organisations ensure they provide their members with education about all required legislation for their businesses including providing information on current wage rates.

Read the full report on our Inquiry into the procurement of security services by local governments

Read our media release: Fair Work Ombudsman to work with local councils to improve management of security supply chains.

Inquiry into the procurement of cleaners in Tasmanian supermarkets

Release date: February 2018

We commenced an inquiry into cleaning arrangements in Tasmanian supermarkets in response to regular reports that cleaners were being significantly underpaid.

The inquiry focused on 55 supermarket sites, involving 31 Woolworths, 7 Coles sites and 17 IGA sites. As the inquiry progressed, it came to concentrate on Woolworths’ cleaning labour supply chain. The inquiry found that at the time Woolworths’ approach to procurement and oversight of its cleaning contracts had contributed to a culture of non-compliance characterised by:

  • significant underpayment of cleaners
  • multiple levels of subcontracting in breach of the direct terms of Woolworths’ own service agreements
  • networks of corporate structures reliant on the engagement of vulnerable workers
  • inaccurate and/or false records
  • difficulties in identifying the true employers of labour within a supply chain
  • inadequate monitoring and identification of who is cleaning each site.

The inquiry has led to:

  • three referrals to the Australian Taxation Office concerning cash payments and misleading or false tax declarations
  • four individuals / entities in the Woolworths’ supply chain subject to ongoing legal proceedings.

As a result of the inquiry’s findings, we recommend a number of measures including:

  • Coles, IGA and Woolworths become members of the Cleaning Accountability Framework external-icon.png
  • and seek to progressively certify their retail sites
  • Woolworths enters a compliance partnership with the FWO designed to enhance management of its cleaning contractors throughout Australia, in response to the significant levels of non-compliance at Woolworths sites.

Read the full report on our Inquiry into the procurement of cleaners in Tasmanian supermarkets report

Read our media release:

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 .

Read our media release:

Trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited

Release date: June 2016 

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

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 .

Read our media release:

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 

Read our media release:

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 2009.

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:

Read our media release:

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 2009.

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 .

Read our media release:

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