National food service campaign results in $470,000 in back pay

Posted by James Ferre on 20th July 2009

More than 700 food services workers throughout Australia will be receive back pay totalling $470,000 following a national campaign to uphold their workplace rights by the Fair Work Ombudsman.The money – an average of $671 per employee – is being progressively reimbursed after the Ombudsman found they were underpaid.

A six-month campaign targeted take-away food outlets, supermarkets, grocery stores, bread and cake shops, meat, fish and poultry distributors and dairy manufacturers. Of 481 employers randomly audited by inspectors, 29 per cent were found to be underpaying 714 staff a total of $469,502.

The largest recoveries were in NSW ($203,919) and Victoria ($140,975) followed by Queensland ($42,781), Northern Territory ($38,664), Western Australia ($28,760), South Australia ($9188) and Tasmania ($5215).

In March, the former Workplace Ombudsman recovered $717,000 for 2170 hospitality workers and in January $540,000 for 1500 young workers under 24.

Fair Work Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell said he is encouraged that 278 – or 58 per cent – of food service businesses scrutinised so far are compliant with national workplace law. He was also pleased with the cooperation of the industry, even from those who were found to breach their responsibilities.

The targeted campaign was conducted between December, 2008 and May, 2009, following a mail-out to 18,000 food service businesses nationwide. The biggest underpayments were in the take-away food sector, where $227,946 is to be reimbursed to 221 workers.

Compliance rates in take-away food outlets audited by the FWO varied from 36 per cent in NSW to a high of 72 per cent in Western Australia.

A total of $71,126 is being recouped for 88 bread and cake shop employees. The FWO found that of the stores audited, compliance varied from 22 per cent in SA to 67 per cent in Victoria.

Other recoveries are:

* $47,548 for 12 workers at the Sydney markets,
* $47,278 for 107 workers in the meat, fish and poultry sector,
* $38,664 for 195 grocery and supermarket staff,
* $26,448 for 57 employees in the specialised food sector, and
* $10,492 for 34 workers in dairy manufacturing.

The campaign is yet to be closed, with a further 136 investigations still under way.

Mr Campbell believes targeted campaigns – which now account for one in five of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigations – are an important mechanism for informing and educating various sectors.

“They provide a good opportunity to talk to employers about their legal obligations to staff and for us to generate increased awareness among employees of their workplace rights,” he said.

Workers and employers can contact the FWO Infoline on 13 13 94 or visit www.fwo.gov.au for assistance in understanding workplace law.