The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is the Commonwealth Regulator that promotes and enforces minimum wages and conditions for employees.
While it is imperative for employers to ensure they are compliant with the current minimum wages and entitlements for their employees, it is also beneficial to keep up to date with the industries that the FWO is targeting.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the FWO focuses much of its resources on industries in which many workers are typically paid minimum award wages. Indeed, the FWO’s current national campaigns target the industries of hospitality, retail, and fruit and vegetable picking.
However, recent announcements by FWO indicate that employers of professionals such as IT specialists are certainly not immune to FWO’s spotlight.
On 16 July 2014, the FWO announced on its website that the FWO will commence legal action against a string of related companies and their directors, including IT companies MPowa Pty Ltd and Worldwide Speciality Services Pty Ltd. The FWO alleges underpayments totalling more than $1.8 million for 22 employees, many of whom were IT professionals.
The main director was already facing legal action commenced by the FWO in relation to other underpayments totalling more than $870,000.
If the court finds that the workers were underpaid, in addition to back-payment, the companies face penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention, and the directors face penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention.
Employers should also be aware that the FWO has recently shown commitment to ensuring overseas workers are paid correctly. A recent report by Melbourne University has identified that:
• the FWO inspectorate has a specialised Overseas Workers Team (OWT) dealing exclusively with workplace complaints from overseas workers
• FWO advisers and inspectors typically evaluate overseas workers as being particularly “vulnerable” and requiring specialised assistance
• when a workplace complaint is lodged by an overseas worker, it is more likely that the FWO will pursue full investigation, compliance measures, and litigation.
For these reasons, employers of IT professionals, particularly of those who are overseas workers, should ensure they are compliant with the minimum wages and conditions in the Fair Work Act 2009 and the relevant award (such as the Professionals Award 2010).
Author: Paul Hardman
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