Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has confirmed that Aussie workplaces can expect a degree of flexibility in the FWO’s enforcement approach in the new financial year, especially those sectors heavily impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
“Our compliance and enforcement work will be informed by the dramatically changed economic conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act,” Ms Parker said.
“Some of our priority sectors have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and are under considerable financial strain.
“We are mindful that our regulatory efforts do not negatively affect already struggling industries, while also being sensitive to the nuances of each sector and the challenges each will face when recovering from disruption.”
Ms Parker said the FWO will enforce workplace laws in a proportionate manner during the COVID-19 pandemic. This, she explained, will see a business’s financial position and viability considered when decision about launching litigation is made, or when determining the size of any contrition payment included in any enforceable undertaking.
Moreover, the FWO will strive to uphold the integrity of the JobKeeper scheme through appropriate compliance activities.
“Due to the impact of COVID-19 on Australian workplaces, the number of employers and employees seeking our assistance has grown significantly,” Ms Parker said.
“In response, we have adjusted our services and prioritised allegations of serious non-compliance with workplace laws, including in relation to the JobKeeper scheme.”
Noting that underpayments of staff in the corporate sector have become a significant issue of public concern, Ms Parker said they will continue to be a priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2020–21.
“More than 60 businesses have come forward to self-disclose workplace law breaches, with a total of half a billion dollars owed to workers — and that’s just what we know about,” Ms Parker said.
“Earlier this year, I wrote to the CEOs and boards of the top-listed companies across Australia, calling for immediate action to assure themselves, their shareholders, workers and the community that their companies are meeting lawful obligations under the Fair Work Act.
“Large organisations need to place a much higher priority on rigorously reviewing workplace relations systems to ensure that paying workers what they are entitled to becomes the norm.”
Other areas on the FWO’s radar this financial year include the fast food industry, restaurants and cafés; the horticulture sector and the harvest trail; franchisors; and sham contracting.
Ms Parker did, however, explain that the agency will provide education, advice, tools and resources to small business and those hardest hit by COVID-19.
“Companies will benefit from early engagement and co-operation with the Fair Work Ombudsman, and we will take account of their financial circumstances in considering our response,” Ms Parker said.