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New app to stop exploitation of migrant workers

21 March 20170 comments

A new smart phone app aimed at combating the tackling the abiding problem of underpayment of migrant workers and young people has been released by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The ‘Record My Hours’ app equips workers with a record of the time they spend at their workplace by using geo-fencing technology to register when they arrive at work and when they leave.

The Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the app would be a valuable back-up for workers when employers failed to meet their record-keeping obligations.

“Most business owners do the right thing and when mistakes occur, many are genuine oversights and are rectified quickly without issue,” Ms James said.

“However we still see far too many examples of records that are either deliberately misleading or so sub-standard that it’s not even possible to conduct an audit and determine whether employees are being paid their correct entitlements,” she said.

“In the six months to December, two-thirds (64 per cent) of the cases we filed in court included alleged record-keeping or pay slip contraventions.

“For many years we have been encouraging workers, particularly young people, to keep a record of work hours. We know this is absolutely crucial for ensuring you receive the correct wages for all hours you have worked.

“Downloading this app won’t cost you a cent, but it could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you are concerned that you are not being paid your correct entitlements,” Ms James said.

Ms James said the app would prompt users to confirm their hours at the conclusion of each shift and users could also choose to record their hours manually with all data to remain private unless the user chooses to export their information to someone else, such as their employer, the Fair Work Ombudsman or another party.

“Metadata in the app will make it clear when the records have been manually edited and should any dispute arise the Fair Work Ombudsman will interrogate the app data and the employer’s own records,” Ms James said.

“Record My Hours has a number of additional features that will also benefit the business community and we would encourage employers to promote the use of the app amongst their staff.

“The app allows rosters and work-related notifications and reminders to be imported to a worker’s phone, reducing the number of late starts and absenteeism.

“The app will also be of particular benefit to small business owners who do not have the resources to install expensive automated time-recording systems, especially those in the retail and hospitality industries where staff are more likely to work irregular hours that do not always reflect rosters.

“In these instances the data from an employee’s Record My Hours app can be checked against the businesses’ records to identify any discrepancies and resolve any issues before they arise,” Ms James said.

The Record My Hours app is available for download from iTunes or Google Play stores.

Ms James said it was important that businesses used the app to complement their own records, rather than replace them entirely.

“Workplace laws require employers to keep accurate records of the hours their employees have worked.

“Minor discrepancies in record-keeping are usually resolved without the need for formal enforcement action,” Ms James said.

“However we take matters very seriously when we come across examples of record-keeping that is so sub-standard it compromises our ability to determine a worker’s entitlements.

“We support the Government’s commitment to increase penalties for record-keeping contraventions, particularly in instances where the conduct has been systemic and deliberate,” Ms James said.

Workers from migrant backgrounds are also encouraged to download the app, which is available in 12 different languages and will automatically detect the language settings on the user’s smartphone.

“We know that young and migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to being short-changed because they are often not fully aware of their workplace rights and can be reluctant to complain,” Ms James said.

Between July 1 and December 31, 2016, the Fair Work Ombudsman issued 347 fines ranging from $540 to $2700 to employers for contraventions of record-keeping and pay slip laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman can also take legal action in court for serious record-keeping failures.

A recent study conducted in the west of Melbourne found the exploitation of migrant and refugee workers was widespread and systemic.

The Western Community Legal Centre’s (WCLC) investigation into labour rorting has found that the underpayment of workers new to Australia could amount to millions of dollars.

The centre carried out 39 focus groups and received 105 surveys finding that 52 per cent of survey respondents said that underpayments were common or that they or someone they knew was not paid enough.

The surveys found 38 per cent of respondents indicated that not being paid regularly was common for newly arrived or refugee communities, or that they or someone they knew experienced this.

More than a third, or 36 per cent, reported it was common to come in early or stay late at work without getting paid, and exactly a third reported it was common to miss out on superannuation entitlements.

And almost half (47 per cent) of respondents reported that discrimination at work was common.

Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. An interpreter service is available on 13 14 50 and the website contains materials translated into 27 different languages.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist