The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recovered close to $30 million in unpaid wages for more than 13000 workers in the 2017-18 financial year, according to the watchdog’s annual report tabled in parliament last week.
According to the report the Ombudsman and its inspectors completed more than 4500 workplace audits and resolved more than 28,000 workplace disputes in 2017-18 , a five per cent increase on the previous year.
Of these workplace disputes, the FWO completed 699 workplace disputes involving businesses operating in the ‘building and other industrial cleaning services’ – comprising of businesses that clean retail, office and high-rise buildings, factory buildings, schools and roads industry.
The Ombudsman also recorded a 49 per cent increase in penalties handed down by the courts in 2017-18 to $7.2 million.
Cleaning up the cleaning industry in 2017-18
In February 2018, the FWO released a report on its inquiry into the procurement of cleaners in Tasmanian supermarkets, which uncovered “rampant exploitation” of cleaners.
The inquiry, which commenced in 2014, examined contracting arrangements for cleaners at all 31 of Woolworths’ Tasmanian sites, as well as seven Coles sites (44 per cent of Coles’ Tasmanian sites) and 17 IGA sites (21 per cent). The focus on Woolworths sites was due to it being the only retailer of the three in Tasmania outsourcing its cleaning.
The inquiry uncovered breaches across 90 per cent of Woolworths’ Tasmanian sites, including cases of contractors paying cleaners as little as $7 per hour for training and $14 per hour for work.
Following the inquiry, Woolworths and the FWO entered into a compliance partnership covering Woolworths’ supply network of cleaning contractors nationwide.
In October 2017, the Fair Work Ombudsman secured penalties of $306,000 against a cleaning company that failed to pay a number of young overseas workers anything for work at a Perth hotel.
In December 2017, the Ombudsman secured record WA penalties of $510,840 against Perth-based Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group, for systematic exploitation of overseas workers. The judge slammed the company for “deliberate, repeated and systematic” exploitation of vulnerable overseas workers.
In May 2018, the Fair Work Ombudsman fined the Australian arm of global cleaning company ISS Group, and its subcontractor, $168,070 for underpaying cleaners at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 2014.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the industry watchdog’s services and resources play a key role in building a culture of compliance in Australian workplaces.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman has designed tailored tools so that the broadest possible range of workers and businesses can assess information about their workplace rights and obligations,” said Parker.
“Our services and resources play a key role in building a culture of compliance in Australian workplaces. I look forward to continuing our important work educating employers and employees, protecting vulnerable workers, and improving overall workplace compliance over the next year.”