Workers underpaid, denied entitlements



Thousands of workers are being underpaid wages or denied entitlements by their employers, new figures obtained by the ABC show.

The office of the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $20 million last year alone, bringing bosses who had done the wrong thing to account.

Despite that good news, there was increasing concern about the rising number of complaints from overseas workers being denied their entitlements.

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Vince Brown came from England to work as a chef but said he has been short-changed by various employers.

He took his case to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

“If I actually totalled up the figures for the first three years I was in Australia, it could be in excess of $30,000 I was entitled to, that I didn’t get,” Mr Brown said.

He was one of around 16,000 workers who were underpaid more than $23 million last financial year.

They got the money back thanks to the Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

“We’ve helped out a lot of employees which is fantastic,” Ms James said.

“It also tells us that there are a number of employers in our country who are still struggling to ensure they’re complying with their obligations.”

Complaints prompt workplace review

The industries that generated the most complaints were cafes, restaurants and pubs, followed closely by construction, the retail trade and service industries like contract cleaning.

But it was the spike in complaints from overseas workers – including 457 visa holders – that prompted Ms James to launch a review.

“One in 10 of our complaints are now coming from visa holders. That’s significant and that is a trend that’s on the up,” she said.

In 2012, her office recouped $67,000 in underpaid entitlements for 77 visa holders.

That skyrocketed the next year to $262,000, while last year $345,000 was recouped for 309 foreign workers.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing is too many employers are taking advantage of people,” David O’Byrne of the union United Voice said.

“Either they have poor English skills (or are) just starting the job in hospitality and they’re very fearful for their job security if they make waves.”

About 50 cases each year end up in court.

The rest, Ms James said, were resolved through her office.

Most disputes were not intentional, she said.


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