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Fair Work changes underpayment tact, announces JobKeeper focus

The Fair Work Ombudsman will prioritise JobKeeper payment compliance over the next 12 months as it flags a shift away from its hard-line underpayments approach due to COVID-19.
Australian workplaces significantly impacted by COVID-19 have now been granted some reprieve by the Fair Work Ombudsman as it looks to adopt a degree of flexibility in its enforcement approach for the new financial year.
“Some of our priority sectors have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and are under considerable financial strain,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.
“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.
“A business’s financial position and viability will be considered when deciding whether to commence litigation for serious non-compliance, or determining the size of any contrition payment included in any enforceable undertaking.”
However, JobKeeper compliance will now be a priority area for the Fair Work Ombudsman as it looks to uphold the integrity of the scheme.
“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.”
Underpayments in the corporate sector will also continue to be a priority for Ms Parker’s office 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.
“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.”

Priority areas

In the new financial year, the Fair Work Ombudsman will focus its efforts on the large corporate sector; fast food, restaurants and cafés; and the horticulture sector.
It will also prioritise franchise agreement issues and sham contracting.
Actions by the Fair Work Ombudsman can range from letters of caution, compliance notices and enforceable undertakings to litigation in the most serious circumstances.
Ms Parker said 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.

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