Thousands of anonymous tip-offs about potentially unlawful workplace practices are helping the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) hold employers to account.
The FWO has received more than 90,000 anonymous tip-offs since it launched its Anonymous Report tool in 2016, with almost 13,000 in 2021-22.
The intelligence contributes to the shaping of the regulator’s compliance activities and creation of education resources.
Anyone can make a tip-off. In addition to tip-offs from members of the public, anonymous reporting provides an option for vulnerable workers to raise issues with the FWO while choosing not to identify themselves.
This includes options to provide anonymous reports directly in 16 languages other than English. In 2021-22, reports in Simplified Chinese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese were the most common after English.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said tip-offs provided valuable intelligence.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman uses intelligence from tip-offs to help gain insight into Australian workplaces, shape our education materials and inform compliance activities,” Ms Parker said.
“They are a vital tool in helping us to monitor for workplace breaches and take targeted action where needed.”
“We encourage anyone – worker, manager, family member or member of the public – to use our Anonymous Report tool to share concerns.”
In one matter, the FWO received multiple reports about a cupcake business underpaying staff. The FWO later included this business in a targeted food precincts campaign to check compliance with workplace laws. The anonymous reports said that the employees were being paid unlawfully low rates of $10 to $16 per hour, did not receive penalty rates and weren’t given pay slips.
This investigation resulted in FWO taking legal action, with the court ordering total penalties of nearly $50,000 against the business and one of its directors. Some of the underpaid employees were juniors under age 21, and most were visa holders.
In another matter, the FWO received reports from various employees of a newly established café chain that alleged underpayment of wages. The anonymous tip-offs each included an Australian Business Number (ABN) and business owner name, which helped FWO determine that workers from different café locations were all reporting underpayments.
The FWO commenced a number of investigations and ultimately took legal action against two businesses within the café chain. This included action against the brand owner and a company of which he was director. In that matter, the court ordered total penalties of $170,000, with a penalty of $130,000 imposed on the company and $40,000 on the company director.
In 2021-22, most anonymous tip-offs came from the hospitality industry (which includes fast food, restaurant and café outlets), retail industry and health support services industry.
The most common issues reported were working excessive hours without compensation, workers being paid ‘cash in hand’, or workers being paid less than an industry award or the National Minimum Wage.