What to do if you think you’ve been underpaid
CHECK your pay slips because there is a good chance your boss owes you money.
One in five Australian workers have been underpaid in the past year, according to new research, and it's not just backpackers and cash-in-hand workers who are falling victim.
Following recent high profile investigations into Domino's, Flight Centre, 7-Eleven and now George Calombaris' MAdE Establishment, a survey by payroll software company Ascender revealed 22 per cent of workers were underpaid to some extent in the past 12 months.
The issue was particularly rampant among young people, with more than a third (34 per cent) of respondents aged 18 to 24 saying they had been short-changed.
Bennett & Philp associate and employment law expert Lachlan Thorburn said he was surprised underpayment rates were not even higher.
"It's a very, very big issue in Australia," he said.
"Whether deliberate or unintentional, it occurs quite frequently in different fields.
"From my research, probably the most affected type of workforce is the migrant worker or the foreign backpacker out there working in fruit picking and those types of environments.
"Perhaps the migrant worker is targeted more in the deliberate side because they are less likely to make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman than an Australian resident (because) they are only here for a short period of time.
"There is also a big problem of unintentional underpayment where awards change or there has been an improper calculating system that doesn't calculate the proper rate for penalties and over time."
Mr Thorburn said employers were obligated to stay up to date with amendments to awards but often small and medium businesses did not have the knowledge or resources to upgrade their system.
Ascender general manager Inna Wahlberg said more employers should use payroll technologies as incorrect pay could lead to damaged business reputation.
"Most businesses are not doing this on purpose, with many of these errors being caused by accident or having outdated information in their systems," she said.
"Automation and smart payroll software can eliminate these errors, ensuring employees are paid on time and accurately."
In 2017-18, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $29.6 million in unpaid wages for more than 13,000 workers.
Most recently, celebrity chef George Calombaris' MAdE Establishment issued a public apology for underpaying employees $7.83 million - an issue that was self-reported to Fair Work following an internal record review.
More than 500 current and former employees at Hellenic Republic, Press Club, Gazi and Jimmy Grants were back-paid and MAdE Establishment was fined $200,000.
Calombaris also committed to promoting compliance within the restaurant industry.
Trade union United Voice national secretary Jo-anne Schofield said underpayment was rife in the hospitality sector.
"We've all seen the reports of widespread underpayment at venues owned by numerous celebrity chefs, like George Calombaris and Shannon Bennett, but it is prevalent throughout the industry," she said.
"There is a little difference to a worker whether they are exploited by a celebrity chef or an everyday dodgy employer.
"A recent investigation by United Voice's digital union Hospo Voice at a popular Melbourne eat street found some workers being paid as little as $10 an hour.
"Our investigation uncovered cash payments, no payment of penalty rates, tax fraud, and superannuation theft."
Ms Schofield said contracted industries, such as cleaning and security, were also particularly vulnerable.
"Many cleaning contracts display a shocking lack of responsibility towards the treatment of cleaners," she said.
"Wage theft, wage stagnation, insecurity and poor working conditions are entrenched through contracts decided purely on price, with no regard as to whether that price could possibly pay minimum wages for the cleaners expected to carry out the work."
She said worker exploitation had become an established business model for many employers who systemically exploited weak laws, lack of enforcement, inadequate scrutiny and ineffective deterrence measures.
The Ascender research revealed workers who were underpaid were short-changed by an average of 18 per cent of what they were owed.
One in seven did not even receive a pay slip breaking down their payment - an offence that can cost employers as much as $12,600 per contravention for an individual, according to Fair Work.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE BEEN UNDERPAID
1 CHECK YOUR NUMBERS
Visit the Fair Work website via fairwork.gov.au to access free resources including a Pay Calculator.
2 TALK TO YOUR BOSS
If you still believe you are owed money, talk to your manager. It may be a simple mistake that is easily rectified.
3 CONTACT THE FAIR WORK OMBUDSMAN OR A LAWYER
Employees can call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free assistance.
An interpreter service is also available on 13 14 50.
Workers who do not wish to be identified can report an employer anonymously via fairwork.gov.au/tipoff
Workers have six years to make a claim for lost wages and can make a claim whether they are currently employed by the company or not.