Extensive raids of Illawarra businesses reveal underpayments
Advertisement

Extensive raids of Illawarra businesses reveal underpayments

The Fair Work watchdog has conducted extensive raids on businesses across the Illawarra revealing incidents of underpayment of workers and breaches of payslip and record-keeping laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said it has conducted close to 100 separate audits which identified non-compliance with minimum pay entitlements and payslip and record keeping laws. A full report on the raids will be released in the second half of the year.

Nathan Subaness, Kiara Robinson and Ashleigh Mounser were underpaid by a range of fast-food outlets, cafes and restaurants in Wollongong.

Nathan Subaness, Kiara Robinson and Ashleigh Mounser were underpaid by a range of fast-food outlets, cafes and restaurants in Wollongong.Credit:Janie Barrett

A preliminary glimpse of the investigation results was provided in a letter to NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley who asked the Fair Work Ombudsman for an update on its findings.

Fair Work inspectors launched the series of raids after Fairfax Media's exposure of widespread underpayments in the area, including the non-payment of university students by cafes, restaurants, retail and take-away food outlets.

Advertisement
Ashleigh Mounser was underpaid in numerous jobs in Wollongong.

Ashleigh Mounser was underpaid in numerous jobs in Wollongong. Credit:Janie Barrett

After taking to Facebook in 2017 to vent about being offered as little as $10 per hour to work in a takeaway food shop, Wollongong University graduate Ashleigh Mounser received complaints from about 67 young workers with similar issues.

Fairfax Media interviewed 13 students including Frances Johns and Blake Roberts who were both paid nothing for a so-called "work trial" which involved a busy eight-and-a-half-hour shift at a wedding reception centre.

Frances Johns worked an 8½ hour shift in the hope of getting a permanent job.

Frances Johns worked an 8½ hour shift in the hope of getting a permanent job.Credit:Janie Barrett

In response to the revelations, NSW Labor last year announced it would criminalise wage theft if it wins government in March next year. It has also pledged to tackle the need for regulation of pay and conditions for workers hired through online job platforms.

Labor's spokesman for industrial relations Adam Searle said the events leading to the Fair Work Ombudsman's investigations and the scale of exploitation of mainly young workers showed the need for NSW Labor’s wage-theft package.

"While I am pleased to see that considerable work has been done, it is disappointing that more information is not available and that matters remain ongoing rather than having been resolved," Mr Searle said. "This is due to the poor resources of the regulator by the Turnbull Government.

"NSW Labor’s package also addresses this failure by using the powers of NSW inspectors to support workplace investigations and where necessary prosecutions."

Federal Workplace Minister Craig Laundy said the Fair Work Ombudsman had been more effective in cracking down on employers breaking the rules since the Turnbull Government had restored $20 million in funding that "Bill Shorten ripped out of it, hindering its ability to properly investigate complaints".

"Penalties have also been increased, up to 10 times higher than previously and the Fair Work Ombudsman has stronger powers to investigate cases where it suspects vulnerable workers are being exploited," Mr Laundy said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman had recovered $30 million from more than 17,000 employees in 2016-17. It had also helped achieve more than $4.8 million in court penalties for breaches of fair work laws and had successfully resolved 27,000 workplace disputes.

"The audit in Wollongong is ongoing and yet to be finalised, we look forward to their report on the outcome of the investigations later in the year," the spokesman said.

"While most employers do the right thing, these cases underline the need for businesses to make sure their employees are receiving their full entitlements."

Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter. Her reports on inequity in schools funding led to the Gonski reforms and won her national awards. Her coverage of health exposed unnecessary patient deaths at Campbelltown Hospital and led to judicial and parliamentary inquiries. At The Times of London, she exposed flaws in international medical trials.