Despite the hospitality industry employing only 7 percent of Australia’s workforce, it accounted for the highest number of disputes (17 percent) according to 2016–17 data from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
The industry also had the highest number of anonymous reports received (36 percent), the highest number of infringement notices issued (39 percent) and the highest number of court actions commenced (27 percent) last year. In 2016–17, 44 percent of the hospitality workers assisted by the Ombudsman were aged under 26 and 31 percent were visa holders.
Released at the end of October, the report listed the hospitality industry as one of the agency’s top five compliance priorities.
“Hospitality employers are under a lot of pressure. They’re always on demand and trying to keep their head above water running their business. So, it’s hard to keep across the employment guidelines, legislation, and requirements that they need to be across,” says Josh Vikis, senior workplace adviser at Employsure.
In 2016–17, the FWO ordered over $4.8 million in financial penalties against non-compliant businesses, up 66 percent from last year. In addition, the FWO received 10,535 anonymous reports — 36 percent of those reports alleged issues of non-compliance in the hospitality.
The FWO also achieved it’s highest ever penalty in a single case in 2017, with penalties of $532,910 handed down to a former cafe owner in Albury after he threatened two employees with violence, dismissal, and withdrawal of support for their visas.
“Almost half of Australia’s hospitality workers are aged between 15 and 24 years — a demographic that the FWO considers vulnerable,” says Vikis.
Irregular shifts and rosters as well as variable Awards mean record keeping and pay entitlements are common concerns for the hospitality industry.
“On average, we receive 1,000 calls a month from our hospitality clients on wages and entitlements alone, this shows that there is a desire from business owners to understand their obligations — particularly now because of recent penalty rate changes,” says Vikis.
“With an overall FWO compliance rate for the industry of just 48 percent, it’s clear there’s a lack of understanding of and compliance with workplace laws throughout hospitality.”
“Most employers want to do the right thing. Most problems arise because of misunderstandings about the application of the law, rather than a blatant disregard for it.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the agency is committed to experimenting with new techniques aimed at reaching and supporting cohorts of vulnerable workers.
“We will work with the community, including businesses at the top of industry sectors, franchisors and their advocates and advisers, to help them understand the new laws and the ways they can contribute to building a culture of compliance with them.”
The full report can be read here.