Effective July 1 the FWC increased the national minimum wage for adults working full time (38 hours per week) by 2.4 percent to A$672.70 ($500), based on a minimum hourly rate of A$17.70 ($13.30). There was no official estimate of the poverty income level.
By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours (determined according to the law, taking into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given). An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable” considering the aforementioned factors.
Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. Some states have harmonized their laws with federal occupational health and safety laws to make it easier for workers and businesses to understand requirements across different states and territories. By law, both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.
The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of FWO inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. However, there were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.
Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns. In NSW, for example, an individual can be sentenced a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and/or receive a maximum fine of A$300,000 ($238,200), and a business can be fined up to A$3 million ($2.4 million) for exposing an individual to serious injury or illness. In 2015 a worker died in NSW after bring pinned between material on a forklift and a wall. After a SafeWork NSW investigation, the employer was fined A$375,000 ($297,750).
Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.
There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers.
In July a Federal Circuit Court fined a Queensland company for violating recordkeeping and pay slip laws relating to vulnerable foreign workers. As part of the FWO’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the FWO made it easier for migrant workers to anonymously report workplace issues by launching the Anonymous Report function in 16 languages.
During the year the Queensland farm lobby group Growcom secured A$800,000 ($634,848) from the Fair Work Ombudsman Community Grants program to train employers in ethical labor hiring practices. Part of the grant will be used to develop a new national “ethical labor” certification for farmers who want to prove they are not exploiting their workers following reports in recent years of farmers underpaying and mistreating seasonal foreign workers.
There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled-worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas. A 417 “Working Holiday” visa-holder Inquiry recently found the requirement to do 88 days of specified, rural paid work in order to qualify for a second-year visa enabled some employers to exploit overseas workers.
The Financial Sector Union (FSU) reported that the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) refused to make mandatory retirement pension contribution payments for more than 7,000 part-time workers. The CBA underpaid part-time staff for work in branches, call centers, and administration areas with set hours each week. According the FSU, almost 90 percent of the estimated 7,000 workers affected were women and among the lowest-paid workers at the CBA. In March the CBA agreed to reimburse the unpaid sums.
According to Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, a preliminary estimate was that 120 workers died while working during the year. Of these fatalities, 47 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 27 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 23 in construction.