More than 18,000 underpaid employees in Australia had over $40 million in wages stolen from them in the 2018-19 financial year.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s latest annual report, 17,718 employees were back paid a total sum of $40,204,976 and more than 29,000 workplace disputes between workers and businesses were resolved.
In total, businesses that had underpaid workers were ordered to cough up $4.4 million in penalties, with more than half of these cases involving businesses from the fast food, restaurant and café sector.
Visa workers were also a particular target exploited by thieving employers, who were ordered to pay $1,775,235 in court penalties.
Of the 16,000 anonymous reports received, more than 1,200 reports were made in languages other than English.
Fair Work saw more than 17.8 million visits to their website and answered 383,206 calls, and inspectors collected nearly half a million in on-the-spot fines for pay slip and record-keeping breaches.
Wage theft rife in Australia
This year, Australia saw some high-profile celebrities in the hospitality sector embroiled in wage theft scandals, such as Masterchef judge George Calombaris, which resulted in all three celebrity judges leaving the show.
In July this year, Rockpool boss Neil Perry was also sued for “exploitation” and “underpayment” of a former chef, who claimed he was being forced to work excessive overtime without pay.
International hotel Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney and global jewellery chain Michael Hill have also admitted to not paying staff their full wages.
Some instances of underpayment were so severe that one worker saw $150,000 of his wages stolen from him, and one nanny was effectively paid $2.33 an hour.
Fair Work Ombudsman’s warning to businesses
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the agency’s work had helped returned wages to their rightful owners.
“In line with our priorities, we will continue our important work educating employers and employees, targeting high-risk industries, protecting vulnerable workers and improving compliance across Australian workplaces in the year ahead,” she said in a statement.
But she also urged employers to “actively check” that their staff were being paid correctly, and pointed to FWO’s free resources for assistance.
“We will take enforcement action against employers who break the law.”
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