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Compliance and enforcement activities

In 2015-16, we recovered more than $27.3 million in back-payments by assisting over 11 150 customers involved in over 29 900 instances of alleged non-compliance. Of these, more than:

  • 10 250 (34%) were finalised through early intervention
  • 11 930 (40%) were resolved through education and dispute resolution services
  • 1740 (6%) were addressed through enforcement action
  • 6020 (20%) were addressed through compliance activities or FWO-initiated inquiries and audit campaigns.

Figure 5: How we recovered back-payments for workers in 2015-16

Figure 5 shows how we recovered back-payments for workers in 2015-16

We received 13 877 dispute form lodgements and, of the 29 900 instances of alleged non-compliance we finalised during the year, 14 329 were raised through a dispute form. Of those finalised, 43% came from females and 57% from males.

Consistent with last year, the highest percentage of dispute forms completed related to people working in accommodation and food services (16%), construction (12%) and administrative and support services (10%).

In determining how best to help, we considered the individual’s circumstances, the issues at the workplace and the situation more generally. We provided tailored solutions and education resources, recognising that not every issue required the same type of assistance or intervention.

We focused our efforts on areas where we could have the greatest impact, in particular on matters involving those vulnerable to exploitation. Visa holders and young workers are more likely to face significant barriers to taking their own action, making them priority groups for the FWO. The figure below shows a decrease in completed dispute forms relating to these workers compared with 2014-15. This reflects the overall decrease in dispute forms and that visa holders are a growing proportion of our customers who submit these forms. The amount in underpayments recovered increased, highlighting the impact of our work in this area and the importance of continuing to focus on these vulnerable worker groups.

Figure 6: Disputes forms finalised and underpayments recovered by key demographic

Figure 6 Annual Report 2015-16

With a commitment to preventing issues from escalating into disputes, our early intervention service resolved most issues within six days, compared to an average of 28 days for other dispute resolution services. Where compliance and enforcement action was required, an average of 131 days was invested. 

Our Compliance and Enforcement Policy details the services we offer to support compliance with workplace laws, and is available on the FWO website.

Early intervention

Early intervention involves addressing concerns at first contact to resolve a workplace issue and stop it from escalating further.

We conducted over 10 250 early interventions assisting customers with issues raised during an initial call to the Fair Work Infoline or through a My account enquiry, and before lodgement of a dispute form. This is a 39% increase on early interventions completed in 2014-15, and resulted in over $4.3 million back-payments being recovered.

Since the program began in March 2014, early interventions have recovered over $8.1 million for workers.

Education and dispute resolution

When a dispute form is lodged, we start by working with the parties to assist them in resolving the dispute.

Each intervention and assisted resolution is tailored and aims to preserve employment relationships by keeping the matter in the hands of the parties. Customers are coached through their options, referred to online resources and supported to have effective workplace conversations.

We resolved 7343 matters raised through lodgement of a dispute form, recovering over $2 458 000 for more than 780 employees.

Where matters are not resolved in this early stage, they can move to mediation. Other unresolved matters may also be referred to small claims.

We intervened early to assist a casual employee who was incorrectly paid as part-time. Equipped with our advice and assistance from the FWO’s difficult conversations course, the employee spoke with the employer. They were back-paid approximately $1000 and continued working for the business under a casual rate.


In 2015-16, the Mediation team finalised 4500 workplace disputes and assisted more than 1590 employees secure over $7 million in back-payment.

Our accredited and impartial mediators worked with parties who hadn’t resolved their dispute in an earlier intervention to reach a settlement during mediation, which is a confidential scheduled telephone conference. Participating in mediation is voluntary, with parties controlling the outcome.

In addition to monetary settlements, other outcomes agreed by the parties through mediation included written apologies, returning property and deciding to return to work.  

Customer engagement

In 2015-16, we resolved over 820 disputes through our Customer Engagement Program. This program targets employers with a history of non-compliance. We engage with the employers to identify factors driving non-compliance and determine how to support behavioural or process change. During the year we recovered over $2.5 million for more than 610 workers through the program.

Tailored and proportionate responses were used to address repeated instances of non-compliance, including issuing 112 letters of caution and 51 infringement notices. Two employers entered into enforceable undertakings and we referred two other cases for litigation.

In response to multiple underpayment claims, we met on several occasions with directors of a quickly expanding family business to understand the causes of non-compliance and offer solutions. In response to our advice, infringement notice and letter of caution, the company back-paid employees and improved payroll processes. They have since opened a further 19 stores.