Over the coming weeks, up to 15,000 contract cleaners throughout Australia will receive a letter from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). Each year, the workplace regulator conducts at least four national campaigns targeting specific industries. After recently focusing on the hospitality, food services, road transport, hair and beauty, horticulture and retail sectors, the FWO is […]
Over the coming weeks, up to 15,000 contract cleaners throughout Australia will receive a letter from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). Each year, the workplace regulator conducts at least four national campaigns targeting specific industries.
After recently focusing on the hospitality, food services, road transport, hair and beauty, horticulture and retail sectors, the FWO is now turning its attention to the contract cleaning industry.
The primary objective of the FWO is to assist employers and employees alike to understand their respective workplace rights and obligations.
To achieve this objective, the FWO aims to provide every Australian with direct and immediate access to information and resources on the workplace issues that matter to them in a way that is practical and helpful.
Last financial year, the Fair Work Infoline answered 862,442 calls, of which 33 percent were from employers and/or their representatives.
New tools and resources have been added to the FWO website, particularly for small business. Free template documents on topics from payslips to managing employment were downloaded almost 370,000 times.
Fact sheets covering topics including annual leave, right of entry, transfer of business and enterprise bargaining were downloaded more than 491,000 times and Best Practice Guides dealing with a range of workplace matters such as work and family and managing underperformance more than 101,000 times.
While improving community awareness about workplace relations is a priority, Fair Work inspectors cannot be in every pay packet nor every workplace, so by necessity, the FWO operates on a voluntary compliance model.
Underpinning the model is a suite of education and compliance activities, including targeted campaigns, the results of which are published on the FWO website.
Combined with regional and industry-based campaigns, the FWO’s pro-active, targeted audits now account for one in every five of its investigations.
Contract cleaning has been selected firstly to educate employers about their obligations and secondly because its 100,000-strong workforce includes immigrants, international students and other young and low-paid employees who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights.
The FWO campaign is targeting businesses holding contracts to clean offices and commercial buildings, residential homes, windows and various other types of property.
Hygiene and pollution-control businesses are also included, but not laundries, dry cleaners or retailers who employ in-house cleaners.
To assist contract cleaners, the FWO has a new page on its website dedicated to providing information specific to the industry – www.fairwork.gov.au/cleaning
This page includes details of the Cleaning Services Award 2010, the new modern award covering the large majority of contract cleaners.
Contract cleaners can also find information about whether the Cleaning Services Award 2010 covers their staff – and if it does, the classifications, wage rates, penalty rates, loadings and allowances that apply to their employees, as well as other provisions including ordinary hours of work and what happens when there is a change of contract.
There is also information about the difference between an employee and a subcontractor to help businesses avoid sham contracting arrangements.
The pay rates contained in the Award are being phased in over four years and details about the transitional phasing-in provisions that apply can be found on the website.
There are links to free templates, letters, forms and checklists contract cleaners can use to keep proper employment records, issue pay slips correctly and hire, dismiss and manage their employees.
The Fair Work Information Statement, which employers must provide to all new employees, is available for download in 26 languages, together with information on the 10 minimum National Employment Standards.
Following the education phase of the campaign, Fair Work inspectors will randomly select 450 contract cleaners around the country for audit. A combination of large and small employers will be chosen.
Most employers selected for audit will receive a written letter requesting they provide copies of employment records. However, there will also be some site visits, including after hours, when inspectors will interview both employers and employees.
The compliance activity aims to ensure employers understand their obligations, are paying workers minimum wage and penalty rates, are not engaging in sham contracting and are complying with their record-keeping and pay slip obligations.
It is important to ensure workers are classified correctly and are receiving their full entitlements.
Enforcing compliance with legislated pay rates also benefits employers by ensuring there is a level playing field – eg, that those paying workers correctly are not placed at a competitive disadvantage.
If inspectors identify contraventions, their first approach is always to educate the employer by providing information about their obligations, and to assist them to voluntarily rectify the issue.
Ninety-eight percent of the $111 million recovered by the FWO for underpaid workers since March, 2006 has been recouped without the need for litigation.
In cases where a contravention is blatant or employers are not willing to promptly resolve an issue, the Agency may escalate the audit to a full investigation.
The FWO experience is that most small business operators want to do the right thing by their employees.