Fair Work Ombudsman drops in on more than 80 Wollongong businesses in crackdown on youth underpayment

SmartCompany, March 31, 2017:

The Fair Work Ombudsman has conducted a series of unannounced audits in the Wollongong region over the past week over concerns young workers in the town are being exploited.

The audits come off the back of an investigation into the region by Fairfax, which uncovered a number of young employees who were allegedly being paid well under award rates.

“Wollongong is a tertiary education hub with a high a number of young students who work in casual jobs and the reports of underpayments have been concerning,”acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said in a statement.

“Young workers can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights or reluctant to complain, so it’s important we are proactive about checking they’re being paid correctly.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) said it visited over 80 businesses in the town’s CBD, conducting audits of businesses records and interviewing employees and employers to ensure compliance. The audits focused on businesses that typically employ younger workers, including fast food outlets, restaurants, and retailers.

Campbell says “a number” of the investigations could lead to enforcement action and full investigations from the FWO.

Employment lawyer with TressCox Lawyers Peta Tumpey has previously advised businesses to ensure they are compliant with the FWO, and that any contact with the Ombudsman should be cooperated with, including readily producing documents.

“If you get an enquiry from a worker or the Fair Work Ombudsman it should set off alarm bells to make sure everything is in order,” Tumpey told SmartCompany in February.

“And if you do get ordered to provide records, just comply and work through it with them, you might only be told off. Don’t try to be smart.”

Tumpey also notes all managerial staff in a business should be striving for compliance, not just company managers.

“It’s not just payroll managers and company directors, anyone in management or supervisor positions have to educated on compliance,” Tumpey said earlier this month.

“Implement some good training in your workplace at all levels.”