In 2017-18, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) continued to support workplaces to become compliant, productive and inclusive. We significantly expanded our service offerings to ensure more workers and businesses understand their entitlements and obligations. Our intelligence-led activities relied on key data and information to target and address systemic non-compliance in Australian workplaces. In responding to important legislative change, complex issues and growing community expectations, we refined how we reach, engage and influence relevant stakeholders and intermediaries to encourage more compliant, productive, harmonious and cooperative workplaces.
Protecting vulnerable workers
On 14 September 2017, the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act received royal assent. The Act provided the FWO with increased powers to more effectively investigate and address instances of worker exploitation. It introduced higher maximum penalties for serious contraventions and made franchisors and holding companies more accountable for non-compliance in their networks.
We responded swiftly to ensure that key stakeholders, business and the Australian public were aware of the changes and their impact. We launched a comprehensive guide to help franchisors promote workplace compliance within their networks in light of the Act. The new powers have also assisted the reframing of our litigation strategy, the principles of which guide the cases we initiate.
Strategic approach to education and enforcement
We continued to adopt a strategic approach to enforcement in order to address the most serious contraventions, hold parties involved in breaches to account, and have a long-term impact.
Our important work on exploitation within labour supply chains and franchise networks relies upon the use of all available levers - legal, brand reputation, market structures and environmental settings - to influence behavioural change. In the past year, we have reported on significant levels of non-compliance within the networks of two of Australia’s largest companies - Caltex’s retail fuel outlet franchisees and cleaning contractors for Woolworths’ supermarket sites in Tasmania.
We continue to take an intelligence-led approach in our education and compliance activities, with our largest campaign educating and auditing 1000 mostly small businesses Australia-wide on the most common and widespread compliance issues.
Our litigation outcomes have included the FWO’s first racial discrimination penalty, using accessorial liability laws to hold responsible parties (such as accountants and human resource advisers) to account, and some of the highest penalties for underpayments and record keeping breaches that the agency has ever achieved.
Our services and resources
Our services play a key role in building a culture of compliance to prevent breaches from occurring by intervening early and resolving issues before they become workplace disputes.
Last year our Fair Work Infoline customer service officers answered more than 375 000 calls, and our website received more visits than any previous year. The number of people using our online tools and resources also increased, including our online portal (My account), Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT) and our free online learning courses.
We also increased our digital service offerings. A key focus in 2017–18 was making our information more accessible to migrant workers, one of the most vulnerable worker cohorts in Australia. We launched a translation tool, which automatically translates www.fairwork.gov.au into 40 different languages. This is in addition to having key information professionally translated into 30 different languages. The launch of our Small Business Showcase also made it even easier for small businesses to check their obligations. For a full list of our new online resources, see Online services.
Working with stakeholders
We are working with business, community organisations and government agencies to promote a culture of compliance and deliver beneficial outcomes for the Australian community. Establishing and maintaining these collaborative relationships allows us to share insights and intelligence, reach different audiences, build trust and, ultimately, have a greater impact by delivering stronger outcomes.
We have formed relationships with community organisations, such as community legal centres and universities, to more effectively reach at-risk workers and worked with industry and intermediaries to deliver our messages. Our visa assurance protocol with the Department of Home Affairs remains in place to encourage migrant workers to seek our assistance without the fear of having their visa cancelled. We continue to be a member of the cross-agency Migrant Workers' Taskforce, sharing insights on rectifying cases of migrant worker exploitation.
The year ahead
Since its inception, the FWO has worked hard to build its standing and profile in the Australian community, with the agency finding innovative new ways to make an impact in key sectors of the economy.
We will build on this strong foundation. I look forward to the next financial year, where we will continue to improve our services for employees and employers who seek our help. We will focus our information-gathering, education, enforcement and litigation activities on employee cohorts, industries and employment arrangements based on risk-assessment and intelligence. We will also keep working with influential partners and continue to strive to find the best ways to achieve fair and harmonious Australian workplaces.
Fair Work Ombudsman