Small Business Ombudsman calls for better protections of employee wages
The Sector > Workforce > Small Business Ombudsman calls for better protections of employee wages

Small Business Ombudsman calls for better protections of employee wages

by Freya Lucas

November 20, 2019

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell is calling on the Federal Government to make it easier for hard-working Australians’ wages and entitlements to be calculated correctly and paid on time.


“We want Australian workers to be paid what they are owed, at the right time,” Ms Carnell said, noting that while the vast majority of small businesses fulfil their obligations to their employees, the award system itself “is overly complicated and fluid, which can sometimes lead to the employer making honest mistakes”.


She said that while of course employers who deliberately flout the law should be punished,any new penalties for incorrect payments should take the complexity of the system into account.


“It is critical small businesses be given the chance to rectify payment errors, when it’s clear the mistake was unintentional, rather than being automatically penalised” she said. 


Penalties should apply, she said, but they should be “proportionate to the nature of the breach. A fine that a large corporation could absorb, could devastate a small business”.


She noted that small businesses are often run by a single person who does everything from management, to IT and payroll, which makes it difficult for them to stay on top of award changes within the elaborate industrial relations system.


“Recent media stories of very large and high-profile Australian businesses who employ skilled and experienced HR teams, underpaying staff highlights the complexity of the award system,” Ms Carnell said. 


That complexity, she noted, was the reason for her office calling for simplification of numerous industry awards, to help reduce payment errors and administration costs.


The rollout of single touch payroll provides an opportunity to calculate award wages and entitlements through an algorithm integrated into accounting software such as Xero, MYOB, Quicken and other software systems. This payment algorithm could be owned and updated by the Fair Work Commission to ensure correct wages and entitlements are correct and up-to-date, she suggested. 


Ms Carnell closed her remarks by saying small and family businesses “should not have to carry any additional administrative burden prompted by new proposals, particularly when they act quickly to resolve any errors that have been brought to their attention”.

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