No one likes to receive bad news just before Christmas, but there were definitely some sobering findings in a report released by the Fair Work Ombudsman on 19 December 2017.
To assess how well Canberra businesses are meeting their workplace obligations, the Fair Work Ombudsman selected 80 local businesses that had previously been found to be non-compliant with workplace laws and conducted follow-up audits to see if they had fully rectified their operations.
This follow-up audit found 40 per cent of the businesses remained non-compliant. The Fair Work Ombudsman said the review particularly emphasised the importance of businesses keeping accurate records.
While this finding is a warning cry to businesses to monitor compliance more closely, it also highlights the very real difficulty businesses – particularly small businesses – face in interpreting and following Australia’s workplace laws.
In an article in The Australian last year, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell said: “For small business, the Fair Work Act is complex and inflexible.”
There are 122 industry or occupation awards that cover most people who work in Australia.
Businesses employing staff may be operating under more than one award at any one time. An example provided on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website to help businesses determine their obligations features a building and construction firm which is subject to two awards: the Clerks Award for office staff and the Building and Construction Award for its qualified carpenters.
“While that is the end of the example online, the complexity doesn’t end there,” Canberra Business Chamber Workplace Relations Manager Lucie Hood explained. “Take the company’s carpenters for instance, in addition to knowing they are under a different award to the office staff, the company needs to be aware of the rates of pay and conditions for a first-year apprentice carpenter, as opposed to a fourth-year apprentice, or compared to a fully qualified tradesperson.
“This can be challenging to keep up with for any business, but for a small business with limited staff, expertise and resources, it can be almost impossible.
“Canberra Business Chamber has a Workplace Relations Hotline to support businesses to interpret workplace laws. Questions about awards make up a significant proportion of enquiries,” Ms Hood said.
The findings by the Fair Work Ombudsman highlight the importance of businesses regularly reviewing their compliance with workplace obligations. There are companies who can provide professional advice if a business needs assistance.
Canberra Business Chamber members have access to Workplace Relations Audit Health Checks. These checks help to ensure employers are meeting their obligations under workplace laws, especially in terms of pay slip reporting and record keeping.
With the Fair Work Ombudsman putting ACT businesses operators on notice that those “who fail to take our advice seriously will find themselves on the receiving end of more serious enforcement action,” it is vital they remain vigilant and take steps to proactively prevent any possible breaches.