Underpaid confectionery workers symbolise need for employers to understand workplace obligations

Posted by Isobel Drake on 5th January 2009

Staff at a popular confectionery wholesaler in Sydney’s western suburbs have got a little bit extra to spend this month after an investigation by the national pay protector.A random audit of the unnamed company by the Federal Workplace Ombudsman has found four staff had been underpaid for the past five years.

After calculations by workplace inspectors, the workers will share back-payments totalling $15,300, or an average of $3825 each.

Workplace Ombudsman Executive Director Michael Campbell says the employer was initially resistant to fixing the problem. Only after “vigorous efforts” by his Agency did the employer finally agree to voluntarily repay the money.

Inspectors discovered that the four staff were paid under the Grocery Products Manufacturing Award instead of the Confectioners Award.

Mr Campbell said the case highlighted the importance of all businesses – no matter how big or small – understanding their workplace obligations. “Our experience is that most employers want to do the right thing,” he said. “From out point of view, a lot of non-compliance comes about because of ignorance, rather than deliberate deviousness.”

However, the Federal Magistrates Court ruled recently that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” for failing to comply with the law.

Penalising a Melbourne business almost $20,000 for sacking a worker after she queried her pay and conditions, Federal Magistrate Frank Turner said employers had a responsibility to pay their staff their correct entitlements.