In 2016–17, we drew on intelligence from a range of sources to better understand the reasons for systemic non-compliance with workplace laws and to tackle worker exploitation. We also continued to leverage government programs and laws, giving consideration to the broader regulatory framework, including workplace relations, migration and corporations laws. This included:
- as a foundation member of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce and Taskforce Cadena
- through the Inter-Agency Phoenix Forum and Phoenix Taskforce
- by providing a submission to and appearing at the Senate inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 and the Senate inquiry into corporate avoidance of the Fair Work Act 2009
- by engaging with and referring relevant matters to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Our Anonymous Report tool enables the community to alert us to potential non-compliance without identifying themselves. In 2016–17, we received 10 535 anonymous reports. Half of these reports alleged issues of non-compliance in the hospitality (36%) or retail (14%) industries.
Our education and compliance priorities for 2016–17 were identified by combining anonymous reports with other operational data, information from other government agencies and public reports of non-compliance (such as allegations reported in the media). These compliance priorities are outlined in Compliance priorities.
Audits of workplace records
Improved intelligence-gathering and analysis has allowed us to identify suspected non-compliant businesses for auditing. Where we identify issues, we work with the businesses to fix any problems. Systems are put in place to ensure ongoing compliance, and are tested with subsequent re-auditing.
Our 2016–17 audits of workplace records found an overall compliance rate of 53%, a decrease of 8% when compared with 2015–16. This decrease in compliance rates reflects our improved ability to target businesses suspected of non-compliance, rather than signifying a decrease in overall workplace compliance.
Our National Compliance Monitoring Campaign assessed whether businesses found in breach of workplace laws through previous FWO interactions were now compliant. We conducted the campaign to better understand the impact of the education and assistance we had provided during these interactions. Assistance provided during previous campaigns included helping each business understand how the law applies to them and helping to establish processes and systems to support ongoing compliance. The repeat audits found 69% of the 891 businesses compliant with all workplace relations obligations. Most of the remaining non-compliant businesses had made clear efforts to comply with their obligations, but minor errors were still detected.
To test overall improvement levels our national program of re-auditing non-compliant employers will continue in 2017–18.
In 2016–17, auditing work accounted for 18% of all monies recovered. Our 4558 audits resulted in the recovery of just under $5.5 million in unpaid wages—up 213% from 2015–16.
The largest portion of this money—over $3.5 million—was recovered for nearly 6000 Chemist Warehouse employees that were not paid for compulsory online training. Chemist Warehouse has since entered into a Proactive Compliance Deed with the FWO. A copy of the deed is available on the FWO website.
In our second operation with ASIC, first-time company directors in Melbourne were educated and their compliance was checked during joint visits from ASIC and FWO inspectors. The joint visits aimed to establish compliant operations from early in a business’ lifecycle and streamlined what would have been two separate appointments into one. This follows the success of the agencies’ May 2016 joint operation in Brisbane, which received positive feedback from businesses and recovered almost $40 000 for underpaid workers.