$70k back-pay for northern suburbs workers

30 March 2015

Workers throughout Melbourne’s northern suburbs have been back-paid a total of $70,500 following recent intervention by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The biggest recovery was $34,000 for a clerical worker at a Greensborough real estate agency who was underpaid over a period of two years.

The employee, aged in her 60s, was often paid only a fraction of the wages she was entitled to and sometimes went weeks without any income.

Her underpayment was the equivalent of nine months’ wages.

The employee continued working full-time under the presumption she would eventually be paid in full, incurring credit card debt to meet her daily living expenses.

The employee contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman for assistance when her employment ended and she was still owed wages.

The business claimed its cash-flow problems were the cause of the problem, but agreed to reimburse the employee all outstanding entitlements.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says ensuring staff are paid the correct wages on time is one of the most fundamental workplace obligations for an employer.

“Employees should not be put in a position where they may struggle to pay their bills because they haven’t been paid the correct wages on time,” Ms James said.

Other recent recoveries include:

  • $14,700 for seven child care workers at a Diamond Creek child care centre underpaid their overtime rates over a 12-month period in 2013-2014
  • $9200 for 34 workers, including waiters, waitresses and kitchen hands, at a Carlton restaurant underpaid their overtime and late-night shift penalty rates over a six-month period in 2013
  • $6400 for a warehouse worker at a Keilor East business underpaid the minimum hourly rate for just over 12 months in 2012-2013, and
  • $6200 for a delivery driver at a Thomastown automotive parts business underpaid the minimum hourly rate between 2010 and 2013.

Ms James says while it was disappointing to identify the underpayments, it was pleasing to see the employers accept assistance from Fair Work inspectors and promptly reimburse all money owed.

“We have a flexible and fair approach when inadvertent mistakes happen and employers are willing to co-operate with us to ensure they don’t occur in the future,” she said.

Last financial year the Fair Work Ombudsman resolved more than 25,000 requests for assistance from employees who believed they had been underpaid or treated unfairly.

More than $23 million was recovered for over 15,000 underpaid workers nationally.

Ms James says the overwhelming majority of employers want to do the right thing by their employees and get it right when it comes to workplace laws.

“We find that most mistakes are due to a lack of awareness of workplace laws, rather than employers deliberately doing the wrong thing,” she said.

Ms James says it is important to build a culture of compliance with workplace laws to ensure that those employers doing the right thing are not competitively disadvantaged.

Employers or employees seeking advice can visit the website www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is also available on 13 14 50.

The Fair Work Ombudsman supports compliant, productive and inclusive Australian workplaces.

Free tools and resources on the website include:

  • an online learning centre that has interactive courses to teach businesses and workers skills and strategies to help them at work
  • fact sheets about the minimum rights and obligations of businesses and workers, including information on the National Employment Standards, record-keeping and pay slips
  • best practice guides to help small to medium-sized businesses with implementing best practice workplace policies and procedures
  • templates that simplify the work in keeping employment records
  • calculators to help:
    • work out modern award pay rates
    • understand annual and personal leave entitlements
    • calculate payment based on hours entered into a shift calculator
    • work out entitlements when ending employment, and
  • My Account which allows you to save tailored information such as pay rates and conditions of employment specific to your circumstances. You can log into My Account and view your saved information at any time. You can also submit an inquiry online and read our response to your inquiry.

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