A series of audits, which the Ombudsman said was “based on intelligence”, randomly investigated 600 employers across fives states and in the Northern Territory. Among the locations it visited were Broken Hill, Katherine, Kununurra, Longreach and Roxby Downs.
Investigators found that three-quarters (76 per cent) of all employers it audited were paying their workforces correctly, and that 90 per cent were compliant in terms of record-keeping and issuing payslips.
However, it found that close to 40 per cent of employers were non-compliant with workplace laws in some way — including a collective pay shortfall of $191,125 for 268 workers.
Some of these underpayments were minor, with one employee in Coober Pedy owed just $36. At the other end of the spectrum, two employees in Stawell, Victoria, were found to be owed $11,946.
It is understood all of the workers have since been repaid the amounts owed.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) also issued 45 formal cautions and nine compliance notices, as well as 14 on-the-spot fines.
Overall, it said that “while findings varied by region, most industries audited in this campaign achieved higher than average compliance rates”.
“Employees in smaller communities may be reluctant to raise workplace concerns where employment options may be limited,” acting Ombudsman Kristen Hannah said in a statement announcing the results of the audit.
“As a result of our workplace audits, tens of thousands of dollars have been put back in the pockets of workers in remote and regional Australian towns.”
Ms Hannah added: “All businesses have the same responsibility to comply with their workplace obligations if they choose to employ workers, regardless of location. The Fair Work Ombudsman is available to provide free advice and assistance to employers and employees, and to help resolve workplace issues quickly so employment relationships can stay intact.”
Assistance on workplace laws is available on the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or via the Fair Work website.