Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has announced the regulator’s strategic priorities for the year ahead.

Fast food, restaurants and cafes will continue to be a focus of the regulator’s compliance and enforcement activities, alongside horticulture and the harvest trail, franchisors, and sham contracting.

“Our compliance and enforcement work will be informed by the dramatically changed economic conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act,” Parker said.

“Some of our priority sectors have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and are under considerable financial strain. We are mindful that our regulatory efforts do not negatively affect already struggling industries, while also being sensitive to the nuances of each sector and the challenges each will face when recovering from disruption.”

Some flexibility in approach is required for industries significantly affected by COVID-19 according to Parker, who said the FWO will enforce workplace laws in a proportionate manner during the pandemic. As such, the Compliance and Enforcement Policy has been updated to reflect this.

“Due to the impact of COVID-19 on Australian workplaces, the number of employers and employees seeking our assistance has grown significantly,” said Parker. “In response, we have adjusted our services and prioritised allegations of serious non-compliance with workplace laws, including in relation to the JobKeeper scheme.

“A business’ financial position and viability will be considered when deciding whether to commence litigation for serious non-compliance, or determining the size of any contrition payment included in any Enforceable Undertaking,” said Parker.

The policy has also been updated to reflect the FWO’s approach to self-reported non-compliance, including the circumstances that require self-disclosure and information that should be provided.

“Companies will benefit from early engagement and co-operation with the Fair Work Ombudsman, and we will take account of their financial circumstances in considering our response,” said Parker.

The FWO will provide education, advice, tools and resources to small business and those hardest hit by COVID-19. Compliance activities will also be used to ensure the integrity of the JobKeeper scheme.

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