Fair Work Inspectors investigated 132 Geelong-based businesses in the period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and found that an overwhelming majority or 77 per cent of businesses failed to comply with workplace laws.
Of those businesses in breach, more than half or 52 per cent both underpaid staff and breached payslip or record-keeping obligations.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the most common breaches identified were failures to correctly pay penalty rates, followed by underpayments of the minimum hourly wage, mostly owed to a lack of awareness of workplace obligations.
“The level of breaches of workplace laws identified in these areas and sectors of Geelong is unacceptable, particularly the breaches involving young workers and students who we know are potentially vulnerable due to their age, visa status and reliance on local jobs,” Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said.
“A lack of awareness is not a valid reason to breach workplace laws. The FWO expects all employers to comply with workplace obligations and to use our wealth of free tools and resources if they need help. Workers with concerns should contact us.”
In response to the breaches, the FWO has issued seven contravention letters, 14 formal cautions, 61 infringement notices (with total penalties of $110,460), and 65 compliance notices. These compliance notices led to $398,818 being back-paid to 445 employees.
One business remains under investigation for serious non-compliance and may face legal proceedings.
“Employers should regularly use our free pay calculator to check they’re doing the right thing by their staff, and access other resources including the Small Business Showcase,” Ms Parker said.
The FWO has previously audited businesses in Albury/Wodonga, Wollongong and Ballarat as part of its rolling regional university cities proactive investigations.