Foodservice industry’s poor form with workplace laws continues

01 August, 2016 by
Danielle Bowling

In the last financial year, the foodservices and accommodation industry accounted for 40 percent of Enforceable Undertakings initiated by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James has announced that 43 Enforceable Undertakings were executed in 2015-16, up slightly from 42 the previous year. Of those, 17 were employers in the foodservices and accommodation sector, up from 11 in 2014-15.

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Cafes and restaurants continue to feature prominently, accounting for one in five of the workplace pacts signed over the past two financial years.

Take-away food businesses also emerged as a sub-sector with ongoing issues, accounting for 19 percent of Undertakings within the foodservices and accommodation industry.

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Enforceable Undertakings were introduced by legislation in 2009 to allow the Fair Work Ombudsman to achieve strong outcomes against companies that breach workplace laws, without the need for civil court proceedings.

“We use Enforceable Undertakings where we have formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this, accepted responsibility and agreed to co-operate and fix the problem,’’ James said.

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In 2015-16, a total of $3.85 million in underpaid wages and entitlements was returned to 2,132 employees as a result of their employers entering into Enforceable Undertakings with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

This is up slightly on the $3.75 million recovered for 2,507 workers the previous year.

Looking more broadly at Fair Work’s dealings with the hospitality sector, foodservices and accommodation continues to generate high numbers of dispute notifications, accounting for 16 percent last financial year.

Similarly, 36 percent of matters placed before the courts in 2015-16 involved employers from the foodservices and accommodation industry.

Other insights regarding Enforceable Undertakings:

  • Of the 85 Enforceable Undertakings entered into over the past two financial years, almost two-thirds (62 percent) came about after an employee lodged a dispute form on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website.
  • Workers aged 30 or under were more likely to have lodged the originating dispute, accounting for two in every three disputes that resulted in an Enforceable Undertaking.
  • Small businesses – those with 15 or fewer employees – made up 52 percent of Enforceable Undertakings across the two financial years.
  • Dispute forms lodged by visa-holders accounted for 35 percent of Enforceable Undertakings executed.

The high number of Enforceable Undertakings in the accommodation and foodservices sector is reflective of findings of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s three year National Hospitality Campaign, which commenced in 2012 with a wave of audits of 779 pubs, bars, taverns and accommodation houses.

The second wave evaluated 1,066 restaurants, cafes and catering business and the third wave looked at 565 take away food outlets.

The three phases of the campaign resulted in 801 employers being found to have short-changed 4,540 of their employees in excess of $2.342 million, and an overall workplace laws compliance rate of just 52 percent.

“I encourage all business to proactively seek information on workplace relations from us, from, employer organisations and professionals advising in this space,’’ James said.

 “We all have a part to play in compliance. There are many opportunities for us as employers, employees, government agencies and workplace advisers to draw on our mutual interests to see employers do the right thing, avoid a nasty back-payment bill, ensure a level playing field for all business and to build a culture of compliance.’’

Other industries where Enforceable Undertakings were required included administration and support services (14 percent) and retail trade and manufacturing (both seven percent).