Spotlight on retail, hospitality businesses

13 May 2014

Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors are in Alice Springs this week to assist local retailers and hospitality businesses to understand their rights and obligations and ensure they are paying correct wage rates.

Six inspectors will visit up to 100 employers selected at random.

They have flown into Alice Springs in response to information received by the Fair Work Ombudsman about potential non-compliance with federal workplace laws.

Employers will be asked to open their books, allowing inspectors to view their records, with a particular emphasis on minimum pay rates.

Inspectors will particularly focus on minimum hourly rates, penalty rates for weekends and public holidays, loadings for shift work and overtime.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says it is important that employers in Alice Springs understand their workplace obligations.

She says key stakeholders have been enlisted to assist the Agency promote the need for compliance and a "level playing field" for all employers.

These include the NT Chamber of Commerce, Alice Springs Town Council, Australian Hotels Association, United Voice and Australian Industry Group.

Ms James says the retail and hospitality industries employ large numbers of young workers and overseas workers, including backpackers.

"This group of employees is potentially vulnerable, so it is important we are proactive about ensuring they are getting their minimum entitlements," she said.

Where Fair Work inspectors identify errors, their first preference will be to work with employers to assist them rectify the mistakes and put processes in place to ensure they are not repeated.

"And we will be talking to employers about the free tools, resources and assistance we have available to help them understand and comply with their workplace responsibilities," Ms James said.

Employers who do not have records available on-site will be asked to supply them for review within two weeks. 

In 2012, the Fair Work Ombudsman audited 11 hospitality businesses in Alice Springs and found five of them had underpaid 136 employees almost $50,000.

Last year, another hospitality business was found to have short-changed seven of its employees more than $2300.

In the 2012-13 financial year, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $200,000 for over 300 workers in the Northern Territory who were found to have been underpaid.

Nationally, more than $24 million was recovered for over 17,000 employees.

Ms James says an 'Industries' section on the Fair Work Ombudsman website provides tailored information for employers and employees in retail and hospitality.

She says the Agency is committed to assisting small businesses, who represent the majority of Australian employers, to understand and meet their obligations.

"Small businesses often don't have the benefit of in-house human resources and payroll staff, so we place a high priority on assisting them to get the information and advice they need as easily as possible," she said.

"I acknowledge small business people are juggling a multitude of tasks and we are striving to allow them to get the information they need in a fast and convenient way."

In December, the Fair Work Ombudsman launched a Small Business Helpline - a priority service designed to help people who want to do the right thing.

Ms James says her Agency has expanded - and will continue to expand - its suite of free tools and resources to assist businesses.

A guide to hiring new employees has recently been produced to aid small business operators with straight-forward advice about recruiting staff.

It gives plain-English advice about the best way to employ new workers and outlines workplace obligations in simple terms.

The guide, which has step-by-step processes and best practice recruitment tips, can be downloaded at www.fairwork.gov.au/hiring.

The resource is complemented by a free interactive online learning course employers can use to improve their skills in hiring and inducting new staff.

The course includes an interactive tool to help employers build a profile of the employee they want to hire and a video activity to help them practice their interview skills.

The course is available at the Online Learning Centre on the Fair Work Ombudsman's website at www.fairwork.gov.au/learning.

"We're serious about getting input from those who are part of the small business community, and tailoring our services to be of genuine help in day-to-day operations, so consultation is a really important part of our work," Ms James said.

A dedicated webpage for small business employers can be found at www.fairwork.gov.au/smallbusiness.

The site includes a Fair Work handbook and a range of resources on topics such as employing staff, resolving workplace disputes and managing employees.

Employers and employees seeking information and advice can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is also available on 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Tom McPherson, Media Adviser
Mobile: 0439 835 855
tom.mcpherson@fwo.gov.au

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