Audit uncovers underpayments

THE Fair Work Ombudsman may inspect trucking companies across the country after the results of a Victorian audit found operators had underpaid workers by nearly $100,000.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson has foreshadowed the possible campaign to begin in the second half of 2013.

The Victoria-wide campaign was conducted in response to more than 200 complaints from the road freight transport industry in Victoria in 2010 - this was the second-highest number of complaints after cafes/restaurants.

More than 500 regional transport employers from Horsham to Bairnsdale and Warrnambool to Mildura were contacted to advise them about changes to workplace relations laws and the free services provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In September 2010, Fair Work inspectors reviewed the employment records of 32 employers to assess their compliance with workplace laws and found 27 (84%) with contraventions.

Businesses randomly selected for auditing included livestock transport, removal companies, interstate and internal transport operators, freight and refrigerated transport firms.

A follow-up audit of the 27 businesses in June, 2011, identified that 18 (67%) were still not following the law, including incorrect payments for overtime, meal allowances, penalty and public holiday rates and incomplete record-keeping.

The campaign recovered a total of $98,159, with individual employers paying between $676 and $39,736 in outstanding employee entitlements.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson said the aim was to provide education and direct advice to employers about their obligations.

"Over the years, we have received a large number of complaints from the transport industry, and it is concerning that this trend is continuing," he said.

The report reveals that some of those complaints have been lodged confidentially as country workers sometimes were reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisal.

"There are many trainee and apprentice drivers and employees working across this sector, and we want to ensure they are receiving their lawful minimum entitlements," Mr Wilson said.

"As with many other sectors, contraventions are often inadvertent, which is why we are strongly focused on providing advice and access to practical resources like online pay and leave calculators."

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