FWO announces priorities for the year ahead

Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) Sandra Parker has announced the regulator’s strategic priorities for the year ahead.

The key focus will be supporting workplaces as they manage the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

Cleaning sector a new priority

Speaking at a Council of Small Business Organisations Australia roundtable meeting, Ms Parker says the contract cleaning sector was a new compliance and enforcement priority this year.

“Intelligence indicates that contract cleaning is part of an industry with large proportions of migrant workers, low paid and part-time workers, who we know are at higher risk of exploitation,” she says.

“The sector also has a significant history of non-compliance, which, combined with an expected quick recovery due to increased demand for Covid-19-safe cleaning practises, makes it a sector to monitor closely.”

Fast food, restaurants, cafes and horticulture

Fast food, restaurants, cafes and horticulture will remain a key focus of activities in 2021-22.

“The FWO continues to find high levels of non-compliance in the fast food, restaurants and cafe sector, with a significant number of requests for assistance from vulnerable workers in the industry,” says Ms Parker.

“The horticulture sector, which has a track record of significant non-compliance, also remains a priority with its reliance on visa holders who may be exploited and complex labour supply chains.”

Ms Parker says that investigating large corporate underpayments will also remain a priority for the regulator.

“We are investigating more than 80 corporate sector employers for underpayments of workers,” she says.

“We recently commenced litigation against Woolworths, where we seek to recover back payments we allege may be owed to about 19,000 employees.

“We expect to take further high-level enforcement action against a range of large corporates this year and urge them to prioritise compliance.”

The importance of small businesses

Ms Parker says the regulator recognised the “crucial importance” of small businesses to the nation’s economic recovery from Covid-19. The FWO will continue to prioritise assistance to these employers.

In 2020-21, the FWO had more than 60,000 calls to its Small Business Helpline and over 160,000 views of its Small Business webpage and Small Business Showcase.

“Our resources are complemented by the Employer Advisory Service, which provides eligible small businesses with free, tailored, written advice about employee entitlements under the National Employment Standards and award provisions,” says Ms Parker.

“We hope the new service will give small businesses increased confidence to understand and comply with their obligations under the Fair Work Act.”

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