The Fair Work Ombudsman announces 2019/2020 priorities and increase in enforcement measures.
The Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has announced the Ombudsman’s priorities for the coming financial year, with reference to the recent increase in funding to and the powers of the regulator.
Noting a key theme in her address to the 2019 Annual National Policy Influence Reform Conference in Canberra was a stronger approach to enforcement, it is more important than ever that businesses understand and comply with their obligations.
In particular, Ms Parker indicated that the FWO would:
Set a higher bar for larger, high-profile businesses that self-report non-compliance, including a new ‘default position’ requiring court enforceable undertakings and requiring employers to pay the costs of getting underpayments verified;
Require contrition payments from employers that self-report, referable to the seriousness of their contravention;
Seek ‘far more significant’ consequences for employers who see a problem, but do not come forward;
Be updating their Compliance and Enforcement Policy to reflect a stronger approach to enforcement, particularly with reference to a greater use of Compliance Notices;
Take employers to court to seek penalties if Compliance Notices were not adhered to; and
Ensure that the sanctions imposed as an alternative to litigation would work to build a culture of compliance.
The Fair Work Ombudsman also identified the following five priority issues or industries for the upcoming financial year:
Fast food, restaurants and cafes;
Horticulture and the Harvest Trail;
Supply chain risks;
After remarking that the above strategic matters and industries were areas where the regulator wanted to be ‘extremely active’ and make use of use its additional funding, Ms Parker warned that:
“if you are in one of these industries, operate a franchise system or employ large numbers of migrant workers, you should expect to hear from us. Particularly, if you are in what we call the FRAC industry - Fast Food, Restaurants, and Cafes.”
In closing, Ms Parker alluded to the potential for greater use of the ‘name and shame’ technique, stating:
“we are keen to empower consumers in the same way we wish to empower workers and business owners.”
When coupled with an earlier statement that the FWO would publicly name employers who break the law, it is evident that the FWO will be aiming to use public opinion and consumer power as another tool in enforcing compliance with Australia’s workplace laws.
Ms Parker’s speech issued a robust warning to fast food outlets, restaurants, cafes, franchises and anyone engaging contractors, that if you haven’t already, it’s time to get your house in order!
We will be providing further updates regarding the changes to the FWO’s enforcement activities after the publishing of the updated Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
In the meantime, all businesses but particularly those falling into one of the five priority issues or industries, should immediately undertake a thorough audit to ensure you are compliant.
If you would like assistance regarding an audit, some guidance on how to conduct one, or have any concerns regarding your obligations, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (02) 9191 9856.
Terri Bell, Principal Ellie Wolfenden, Lawyer